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NASA and 3D Printing

NASA and 3D Printing

Though not an original equipment manufacturer, NASA has been one of the foremost innovators for 3D printing design and application.  Using Selective Laser Sintering or SLS on metals NASA is able to more quickly make more optimally designed and mechanically robust components, while cutting out the majority of the weight. They feel that their, “team’s innovative work here at Marshall and the NASA National Center for Advanced Manufacturing is just one example of how NASA is helping to reinvigorate America’s manufacturing sector.”

The goal is for these parts to help us reach a familiar goal:

The emerging technology will build parts for America’s next flagship rocket, the Space Launch System or SLS, which is designed to take humans, equipment and experiments beyond low Earth orbit to nearby asteroids and eventually to Mars.

The main reasons NASA sees an advantage in Additive Manufacturing are pretty simple:

There are two major benefits to this process, which are major considerations for the Space Launch System Program: savings and safety.

“This process significantly reduces the manufacturing time required to produce parts from months to weeks or even days in some cases,” said Andy Hardin, the integration hardware lead for the Engines Office in SLS. “It’s a significant improvement in affordability, saving both time and money. Also, since we’re not welding parts together, the parts are structurally stronger and more reliable, which creates an overall safer vehicle.” It turns out these 3D printed parts can handle more stress from the launch than any other welded part.

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Huge and Obstructive Patents in 3D Printing

LINK

This article covers the main reason why we are still quite far from inexpensive AND quality consumer level machines for hundreds instead of tens of thousands of dollars: Intellectual Property and Patent Law.

Companies like 3D Systems and Stratasys have thrown millions into RnD and have patented many of their ideas.  Though some of the patents do seem to be as reasonable as patenting the rectangle, while others make a little more sense, they all prevent outsiders from coming in and producing the same great machine for much less until the patents expire, which in some cases are as late as the mid 2020’s.  In the meantime, expect the most affordable printers with any quality to cost thousands while Stratasys and 3D Systems make very high margins on equipment and “ink” that is not terribly expensive to produce, because they really have no incentive to lower their prices.

One serious competitor to the two giants is Formlabs and their $3200 dollar SLA machine.  They created a system based on an expired 3D Systems patent, but patent law is so murkey they are being sued anyways for violating some other patent, the specifics of which I have been unable to locate.

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GE Agrees with Me

GE Agrees with Me

Just as I was posting the below article, I found out I have some like-minded company.  Jeffery Immelt went into less detail because, well, as head of GE his reputation carries a little more weight than an unknown blogger.

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“3-D printing is the first step toward Star Trek’s fabled replicators”

In this excerpt from Peter H. Diamandis’ and Steven Kotler’s new book, Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think, Diamandis describes his excitement and anticipation for 3-D printing. Read more here!

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