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The Future of Additive Manufacturing

September 28, 2013

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,event,future — Terry Wohlers @ 08:36

GE Global Research sponsored a web broadcast yesterday titled The Future of Additive Manufacturing. The company used Google+ Hangout to provide audio and video of the four panelists and moderator to about 2,000 attendees. It was GE’s first “hangout,” and mine too. The event took some advance preparation and setup, but GE pulled it off beautifully. Click here to see the program in its entirety.

The broadcast covered many interesting topics including the opportunities and challenges associated with additive manufacturing, also referred to as 3D printing. Panelists included Rob Gorham of the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, Ryan Wicker of the University of Texas at El Paso, Avi Reichental of 3D Systems, and me. Chrstine Furstoss of GE Global Research served as moderator and did an excellent job.

Overall, I thought that Google+ Hangout worked very well for this one-hour program. It won’t replace face-to-face meetings, but it’s a good alternative for these types of events. Nice work, GE.


September 15, 2013

Filed under: life — Terry Wohlers @ 09:29

We woke up this morning to a downpour of rain. This comes after some of the most rainwater and flooding that Colorado has ever seen. Prior to this morning, we had received about 14 cm (5.5 inches) of rain, according to our rain gauge in southeast Fort Collins. This may not sound like a lot, but it’s more than one-third of the average total moisture that we receive in a year. Areas around Boulder received 38-43 cm (15-17 inches) of rain.

With the foothills and mountains to our west, heavy rain causes water to accumulate quickly, filling rivers, valleys, and low lying areas. Yesterday, in increments of about every 10 minutes, we would see large military helicopters overhead. This morning’s Coloradoan newspaper reported that they were carrying food and supplies, as well as many stranded people to safety. By yesterday evening, more than 1,750 people had been rescued. Four have died and more deaths are expected. About 500 people have not been heard from, including 350 from Larimer County. (Fort Collins is the country seat.)

Erick Nielsson, emergency manager for Larimer County, said that this is worse than Big Thompson. The horrific Big Thompson Canyon flood of 1976 claimed the lives of 143 people. Nielsson, an emergency medical technician at the time, never thought he would say that. It is sad to see the destruction of so many roads, bridges, homes, and other structures in this canyon. Areas from Fort Collins to Pueblo have flooded.

The weather forecast for today and tomorrow is not good. We can only hope and pray for some sunshine, and the well-being of those most effected. Until then, be careful and safe if you’re in a flooded area.

Made In Space

September 1, 2013

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future — Terry Wohlers @ 08:31

I had an interesting conversation last week with three guys from Made In Space. CEO Aaron Kemmer, CTO Jason Dunn, Mike Chen, and 17 others have come together to put a 3D printer on the International Space Station. The group has completed an impressive 400 zero gravity parabolic “cycles” (known to some as the Vomit Comet) totaling more than two hours of 3D printing research in microgravity. Members of the team have worked on many different ISS missions in the past.

In its quest to get a 3D printer into space, the company tried many machines at the Made In Space lab at NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. The team was hoping to use a commercially available 3D printer and then modify it for space. After extensive testing, they found that problems such as surface tension, thermal characteristics, and off-gassing created a need to design and build a machine specifically for zero gravity. Commercially sold 3D printers, for example, are dependant upon gravity to hold materials in place.

A couples days prior to talking with the guys at Made In Space, I read in the August 26, 2013 issue of Plastics News that an estimated 30% of the small plastic parts and tools on the ISS could currently be produced by the company’s new 3D printer. The machine is based on material extrusion, an additive manufacturing process that was invented more than 23 years ago by Stratasys. The “30%” estimate sounded optimistic to me, but after talking with the Made In Space guys, it may not be too far from realistic. They said that the interior of the ISS includes many small plastics parts that they believe could be reproduced by its 3D printer.

One problem with gravity-based 3D printing systems is the need for support structures, and their subsequent removal. In space, this problem does not exist, so there’s no need to support overhanging features or produce a “foundation” for the part. The part itself is printed and nothing more, eliminating the need to wash away or manually remove the support material. This also eliminates scrap and the need to dispose of it.

NASA, which invested about $1.4 million into Made In Space, expects to launch the new 3D printer in June 2014. The use of the 3D printer on the ISS will be experimental, but the goal is to eventually print parts and tool as the astronauts need them. I am impressed by the progress that the small company has made in such a short time. A number of recent articles have been published on Made In Space, but one should always question what he/she reads (see 3D Printing Misinformation), so it was good to receive information directly from Kemmer, Dunn, and Chen.