3D printing has revolutionised how plasic products are designed and produced. The European Space Agency has revealed that it is about to “take 3D printing into the metal age” by using the technology to produce parts for jets, spacecraft and fusion products.
Twenty eight institutions are working together as part of the Amaze Project to develop new metal components that are lighter, stronger and cheaper.
This 20 million euro project is made up of members that come from European industry and academia, including Airbus, Astrium, EADS and Norsk Titanium.
The process of layering materials through the 3D printing method will allow intricate designs to be produced with metal, which would just not be possible using the conventional metal casting process.
Printing metal parts for rockets and aircraft will cut down on the amount of waste and save money. In the case of cars and satellites, the new metal components will mean the products can be made lighter but also stronger.
At the London Science Museum on Tuesday, a new tungsten alloy component was unveiled as part of Amaze. This alloy component can withstand temperatures of 3,000C. In practical terms, this means it can withstand the extreme temperatures inside a nuclear fusion reactor.
Amaze researchers have already started to 3D print metal jet engine parts and areoplane wing sections up to 2m in size. Normally these components are made from expensive metals like titanium, tantalum and vanadium. The traditional casting techniques often waste these precious materials but the 3D printing process produces almost zero waste.
“To produce one kilo of metal, you use one kilo of metal – not 20 kilos,” says Esa’s Franco Ongaro.
“We need to clean up our act – the space industry needs to be more green. And this technique will help us.”
However this technique is not problem free. David Jarvis, Esa’s head of new materials and energy research explains: “One 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. We need all these teams working together and sharing.”
[Image via BBC]