EYE ON INNOVATION: 3D Printer Boldly Goes Where No Printer Has Gone Before

3D printing continues to break the bonds of traditional manufacturing methods. Now, a private company collaborating with NASA is breaking Earth’s bonds by taking 3D printing into space.

In April, at the International Space Station, NASA successfully tested a zero-gravity 3D printer that’s been in development for several years from California-based Made in Space.

Photo Courtesy: NASA

NASA found that the specially designed, zero-gravity 3D printer could in fact manufacture parts and tools on-site and on-demand. As NASA points out on its website, this on-site, in-orbit manufacturing ability would be a huge benefit for long-term, deep-space missions with restrictions on weight and room for cargo. The tests on board the space station included successfully printing items such as wrenches. So far, more than 25 objects have been produced.

As Gizmag.com reports, the zero-gravity printer is an extrusion printer that, like other 3D printers, builds up layers of hot liquefied ABS thermoplastic to create an object. However, a number of factors had to be taken into consideration for designing it to work in a zero-gravity environment. Components that might previously have been partly held in place by gravity had to be redesigned, thermal processes had to be recalculated and the layering process had to be reconsidered. The printing functions were then all integrated into what is called the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG), part of an overall platform dubbed the Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF).

Photo Courtesy: Made in Space

As a spokesman for Made in Space says in a promotional video: “The goal…is pretty simple, but audacious…to develop the necessary technologies to allow humanity to move beyond Earth and live on other planets.”

Meanwhile, more down-to-earth considerations include, as Wonderfulengineering.com reports, Made in Space’s announcement this week that it is “going commercial and inviting the public [to purchase parts] made in the unique presence of zero gravity.”

Eye on Innovation is a monthly look at new technology and products.

On-Demand Webinar: Improving Manufacturability with ProtoQuote

Last week we hosted a quick webinar that explored how designers can use ProtoQuote to improve the manufacturability of their design. It’s available on-demand here.

Key Takeaways

  • How to get free design for manufacturability feedback for your part
  • Improving manufacturability by adding draft, adjusting wall thickness and incorporating radii
  • How to navigate ProtoQuote for each of our processes: 3D printing, CNC machining and injection molding

Top Questions Asked

Will Proto Labs help simplify my CAD file?
Yes, along with our automated DFM feedback, we have a full staff of engineers that will work with you on simplifying your design. Once you upload a 3D CAD file, they will look at it and explore ways of improving overall manufacturability and provide guidance based on your part’s requirements and intended application.

Are there any general design tips to avoid parts having side-pulls or side-actions?
Our free design cube shows the different side-actions that we use to produce parts. And, if you have snap features on your part that might require side-actions, you can cut away that geometry and use a pass-through core to alleviate the need for a side-pull or cam.

We also have resources that discuss implementing side-actions, as well as eliminating the need for them:

What are the material options for opaque materials for lighting applications?
We offer polycarbonate materials that provide transparent options for lighting and other applications requiring transparent materials. We provide multiple PC colors: amber, green, blue, transparent and even infrared.

Stay Tuned
Look for additional technical webinars throughout the year on various 3D printing, CNC machining or injection molding topics. The next webinar will be part one in a series of 3D printing webinars and we’ll discuss designing for stereolithography.

DESIGN TIP: Metal 3D Printing Redefines Part Design

Metal 3D printing is helping to redefine part design, with capabilities to build ever-increasingly complex parts in less time and with little human intervention. Welcome to the industrial-grade 3D printing process of direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), which is the focus of our monthly design tip.

Med device developers are turning to industrial-grade metal 3D printing to produce a variety of prototype and end-use parts, including these components used for surgical instruments.

Through additive manufacturing technology, DMLS produces fully function metal prototypes and end-use parts, simplifies assembly by reducing component counts, offers virtually unlimited complexity with no additional cost, and works for a variety of industries, including the med device space (see part photo).

This month’s tip discusses:

  • A short overview of DMLS
  • Ways to avoid warping and curling with certain part features
  • Part orientation
  • Wall thickness considerations

READ FULL DESIGN TIP

HP Selects Proto Labs to Test New 3D Printing Technology

HP Inc. made its announcement Tuesday morning at RAPID, the 3D printing trade show underway this week in Orlando. Here’s a glimpse of HP’s booth at RAPID.

Proto Labs has been selected by HP Inc. as a product testing site for the printing and PC giant’s new HP Multi Jet Fusion technology for industrial-grade 3D printing.

HP announced its new technology today at RAPID, a 3D printing and additive manufacturing trade show underway in Orlando, Florida through May 19. Proto Labs is at RAPID. You can find us at booth #443 to talk with a customer service engineer about our industrial-grade 3D printing services.

We’re excited to test drive this new technology that looks to be a dramatic leap ahead in 3D printing. We are looking forward to collaborating with HP on this new platform that promises to be faster and more economical than currently available 3D printing options.

Proto Labs’ staffers take a short photo break during RAPID underway all week in Orlando. From left, Joe Cretella, Greg Thompson, Rob Connelly and Thomas Davis. Visit Proto Labs at booth #443.

Proto Labs is one of several companies HP is working with as part of the company’s Early Customer Engagement Program, which conducts product testing and garners user feedback.

We were chosen because of our extensive experience as a prime user of industrial-grade 3D printing technology (also known as additive manufacturing) for our prototyping and low-volume manufacturing services.

READ THE FULL PRESS RELEASE ANNOUNCEMENT

Eyeing the Future of Wearable Fitness Tracking

California-based eyewear maker VSP Global is using Proto Labs’ rapid injection molding services to accelerate the design, prototyping and testing phase of a new product, a pair of glasses that includes a health-tracking capability.

Photo: VSP Global

The glasses have a fitness tracker built in, a prototype design concept that VSP Global calls Project Genesis. A vision care company, VSP Global includes an eyewear manufacturing and design division, plus a vision insurance plan that encompasses more than 80 million members and a network of 34,000 eye doctors in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland and Australia.

Wearable technology is a hot trend right now, and, as VSP Global explained in a recent press release, though “some [wearables] could be considered hype, some…could be considered the start of a personalized medicine revolution.” Continue reading