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3D Printing Metal Parts in Space

December 20, 2013

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future — Terry Wohlers @ 10:21

We launched an interesting project recently with NASA. The goal is to produce metal parts by additive manufacturing in space. Sound ambitious? A similar project with the same goal was recently launched by the European Space Agency. Our NASA contacts explained that it is a complimentary project rather than competitive.

The idea of 3D printing in space is not that outrageous. A filament-based 3D printer that produces plastic parts by material extrusion has been certified to operate on the International Space Station. It is scheduled to be sent up to the ISS next year. We can thank our friends at NASA and the people at Made In Space for making it happen. See the blog commentary titled Made In Space.

One could argue that metal is much more difficult than plastic due to the feedstock (usually powders), processing temperatures, and potential distortion due to these high temperatures. Most metal-based AM systems use the build material to anchor the part and its features to a build plate to reduce distortion. These anchors are later removed, but the effort can require a band saw, wire EDM, CNC milling, and hand work—machines and activities that are not an option on the ISS. Also, chips and scrap are not desirable in zero gravity.

Our job is to consider all options and recommend approaches that have the best chance of success. We are considering ideas from a range of sources, and if you have an idea, I would like to hear it. Just shoot an email to me at tw@wohlersassociates.com or go to our new 3D Printing in Space LinkedIn Group and share your thoughts. I would appreciate it very much.

Happy holidays to you over the next couple weeks. I hope you can enjoy some quality time away from work. Cheers!

Nelson Mandela

December 9, 2013

Filed under: event,life — Terry Wohlers @ 09:08

Nelson Mandela is viewed as one of the most respected individuals in modern time. After leading a campaign against the South African apartheid government and spending 27 years in prison, he chose to unite rather than seek revenge. He is credited with guiding the country to democracy and was elected as South Africa’s first black president in 1994.

In my years of visiting South Africa, my understanding and appreciation for what Mandela had done for the country has grown considerably. He meant so very much to so very many because of what he stood for and had given to the country. President Obama said last week after his passing, “We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. So it falls to us as best we can to forward the example that he set: to make decisions guided not by hate, but by love; to never discount the difference that one person can make.”

In 2002, Mandela gave a keynote speech when accepting an honorary doctorate from Central University of Technology in Bloemfontein, South Africa. I’m sure it was an extraordinary occasion, and one that I wish I could have attended. Two years later, I received an invitation to accept an honorary doctorate from the same institution, much to my surprise. It came with the request to give the keynote at the graduation ceremony—an experience I will forever treasure, especially given Mandela’s previous involvement.

The 2004 graduation ceremony coincided with the 10th anniversary of democracy in South Africa. This made the event even more special. I will forever view Nelson Mandela and South Africa in a very special way. As an extraordinary person and example, his legacy will continue to serve as inspiration to South Africans and others around the world for decades to come.