I was watching at long last the movie “the Martian” last week, and I had to think, why didn’t they take a FDM printer to the Mars station habitat? Every part could be stored digitally for use in worst case scenarios and the ability to survive would be enhanced. I know that we are already on the international space station with 3D printers, and we are rapidly seeing 3D printer make a name in combat engineering, but… come on! Rocket scientists would certainly put one of the printers on Mars just in case.
I guess that sums up my thoughts in space exploration and how 3D printing fits into all the things that are going on now. Mars flights are in the prep stages, with new designs and testing going on all around me. But aerospace has inherent risks and rewards, and planning means being able to improvise and make do under the worse conditions.
Industrial 4D printing for aerospace applications has been not only bringing the ability to improvise into the manufacturing and testing of aerospace components and structures, but also into the end uses of the technologies to bring low volume production parts made in aerospace rated materials. In other words, by 3D printing parts in Ultem, you gain all around.
Ultem parts give you the Smoke, Toxicity and Flame rating necessary for aerospace applications but also design freedom and high strength to weight ratios needed for many structural parts. On smaller pieces, such as ducting, channels, and enclosures, the 3D printed parts yield weight savings, high durability and performance plus production efficiency that is above anything else. Imagine if you needed to make a design change in a wire guide, since the present one was a problem with interference with another parts in the very crowded cockpit of a jet. Going from the needed design change to a finished piece used to means weeks of tooling, changes, machining, confirmations of fit and form, retooling and reaching, then finally going into production; weeks and weeks of work before the part was ready to be tried in the cockpit. By using 3D printing, the part could be designed, printed to check for fit and form, and tested and inserted into production in a matter of hours versus weeks. A winner for all parties.
Now, there are places where traditional high stress parts should be made in traditional materials and by traditional methods, but those are gradually giving way to 3D printed parts as continuing improvements in materials are being made. But for aerospace, the sky is not the limit anymore, it is the only the atmosphere that surrounds even more applications for these materials and machines.