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AMAZE project aims to put first 3D metal printer on the ISS

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October 17, 2013

The AMAZE logo printed in metal using an additive manufacturing 3D printing technique that could be making its way to the ISS in the not too distant future (Photo: ESA-N. Vicente)

The AMAZE logo printed in metal using an additive manufacturing 3D printing technique that could be making its way to the ISS in the not too distant future (Photo: ESA-N. Vicente)

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3D printers have already migrated from factories to the home and are now set to journey into space, where the cost of delivering replacement tools, components and structures can cost in the millions. The AMAZE (Additive Manufacturing Aiming Towards Zero Waste & Efficient Production of High-Tech Metal Products) from the ESA and the European Commission aims to deliver the first 3D metal printer to the International Space Station (ISS) to allow astronauts to print custom objects on demand.

While the home 3D-printing revolution is largely limited to the creation of small plastic objects, the AMAZE project envisages using 3D printers to produce metallic components up to 2 m (6.5 ft) in size, thereby allowing the printing of entire satellites as a way to bypass the need to launch heavy payloads destined for the Moon and Mars from Earth and save time and money.

The ESA is evaluating the potential of five metal additive manufacturing processes with a focus on high-tech alloys, some of which only melt at 3,500° C (6,330° F). "We are using lasers, electron beams and even plasma to melt them," explains David Jarvis, ESA’s Head of New Materials and Energy Research.

The project's goal of near zero waste production also opens up the possibility of using exotic and expensive elements, such as tungsten, niobium or platinum to produce high-strength and lightweight components.

Technology developed by the project is also expected to have numerous Earthbound applications in the areas of aeronautics, automotive, nuclear fusion and tooling. To this end, the AMAZE team, which is made up of 21 industry partners, eight academic partners and two intergovernmental agencies, aims to deliver a modular streamlined workflow at factory level that will offer the flexibility inherent in 3D printing technology, cut production times, and offer a 50 percent reduction in factory shop floor space compared to conventional factories.

The €19 million (US$26 million) project, which is the world's largest metallic 3D printing project, will involve the establishment of four pilot-scale additive manufacturing factories that are being set up in Germany, Italy, Norway and the UK, with each employing different 3D printing methods.

“We need high quality, we need it to be repeatable, and we need a supply chain. AMAZE connects all the key players within Europe and develops that supply chain,” says Jon Meyer, Additive Layer Manufacturing Research Team Leader at EADS Innovation Works.

Although the ESA may be the first to put a 3D printer capable of producing metal objects on the ISS, it is unlikely to be the first 3D printer there. Earlier this year, NASA and Made in Space Inc. announced plans to ship a 3D printer to the ISS on a US commercial resupply mission next year to demonstrate the potential of 3D printing technology in space. However, that printer is expected to handle polymer materials.

Source: ESA

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick
13 Comments

Printing in metal takes it to the next level...plastic is for decoration or maybe a model for lost wax/plastic casting.

Threesixty

doesn't 3 D printing require gravity to hold the medium in place while it hardens?

how do they plan to deal with the toxic fumes from the manufacturing process?

toolman65
This is a wonderful technology. One side effect is that it is obvious that we will need a lot less employees in the manufacturing industry as a consequence. We are setting ourselves up for a disaster as social policy must advance as quickly as technology and no one is paying attention to evolving social policy and economics to assure that people do well as technology eliminates the need for human labor. Jim Sadler

@ Threesixty There are a lot of things made of plastic that are neither decorations or molds.

Slowburn

Printing metals is an incredible future. Next is printing composites.

ezeflyer

I believe I saw an article on here describing a rail gun that could launch solids into space inexpensively. I didn't see much value in it at the time but if it could launch the printing material up to the 3-D printer then the possibilities are endless... You could print a huge space station at a fraction of the cost...

Justfly25

Bypass the need to launch heavy payloads destined for the Moon and Mars from Earth and save time and money.

How do you figure that? The printer will have mass, and unless you plan on mining the raw material, from an asteriod (no time or money saved there) the raw materials also have to go up into space.

Maybe picking up some of the stray junk spinning around up there, grind it up?

Bob Flint

i think Justfly25 had the ultimate concept.using high G's to put raw materials in to space then having the ability to manufacture. finally a real game changer.

frogola

@toolman65:

It depends on the process. This one doesn't need gravity:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mkUVURLkxS4

dalroth5

I hope they make a sealed box for it so metallic microdust does not float around the station!

The Skud

@ The Skud Everything end up in the air return filters.

Slowburn

@ Slowburn "Everything end up in the air return filters."

Assuming you actually want reactive Titanium\Aluminum dust exposed to an oxygen environment, with a convenient near total vacuum inches away.

L1ma

@ L1ma

Quantity makes a big difference. Powdered aluminum is not that much more energetic than powdered sugar.

Slowburn
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