Print Me to the Moon

Space agency to develop large scale metal 3D printing.

Iter, fusion, 3d printing, metal, ESA, Euro, investment, AMAZE, space, aerospace, jet, engine, DMLSThe European Space Agency (ESA) has announced plans to create large-scale 3D printed metal parts for jets, spacecraft, and fusion reactors.

Within the AMAZE project (Additive Manufacturing Aiming Towards Zero Waste & Efficient Production of High-Tech Metal Products), the ESA summarizes their goals to “take 3D printing into the metal age”.

The AMAZE 3D printing methods are capable of producing complex parts that are lighter stronger and cheaper than conventionally manufactured components. To be viable, the manufacturing techniques will have to produce components capable of withstanding temperatures of 3000°C. This would mark a breakthrough in metal 3D printing.

The ESA has invested 20 million Euros into 28 companies and universities to develop the AMAZE 3D printing methods.  “We want to build the best quality metal products ever made. Objects you can’t possibly manufacture any other way,” said David Jarvis, ESA’s head of new materials and energy research.

If successful, the AMAZE system should demonstrate a modular, streamlined work-flow that can accommodate on the fly changes to component designs. Additionally, the project aims to reduce the amount of real-estate a factory needs to transform raw material into finished goods.

Some of these technologies are already in the works, but ESA knows there’s a good deal of work to still be done. To that point, Jarvis admits “[o]ne common problem is porosity – small air bubbles in the product. Rough surface finishing is an issue too,” he said. “We need to understand these defects and eliminate them – if we want to achieve industrial quality. And we need to make the process repeatable – scale it up. We can’t do all this unless we collaborate between industries – space, fusion, aeronautics.”

Currently, the ESA has no timetable for the completion of the AMAZE project. However, given the number of collaborators, it might not be long before we see a significant 3D metal printing breakthrough.

Images Courtesy of ITER