Manufacturing & Prototyping

3D Printer Heads to International Space Station

The first 3D printer is soon to fly into Earth orbit, finding a home aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The size of a small microwave, the unit is called Portal. The hardware serves as a testbed for evaluating how well 3D printing and the microgravity of space combine. The soon-to-fly 3D printer can churn out plastic objects within a span of 15 minutes to an hour.The technology works by extruding heated plastic, and then builds successive layers to make a three-dimensional object. In essence, the test on the ISS might well lead to establishing a “machine shop” in space. The 3D printer experiment is being done under the tech directorate's Game Changing Development Program, a NASA thrust that seeks to identify and rapidly mature innovative/high impact capabilities and technologies for infusion in a broad array of future NASA missions.According to the team, manufacturing assets in space, as opposed to launching them from Earth, will accelerate and broaden space development while providing unprecedented access for people on Earth to use in-space capabilities. SourceAlso: Learn about Ammonia Leak Detection on the ISS.

Posted in: Manufacturing & Prototyping, Rapid Prototyping & Tooling, Materials, Plastics, Test & Measurement, Aerospace, News

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Researchers Create Energy-Absorbing Material

Materials like solid gels and porous foams are used for padding and cushioning, but each has its own advantages and limitations.A team of engineers and scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) has found a way to design and fabricate, at the microscale, new cushioning materials with a broad range of programmable properties and behaviors that exceed the limitations of the material's composition, through additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing. Livermore researchers, led by engineer Eric Duoss and scientist Tom Wilson, focused on creating a micro-architected cushion using a silicone-based ink that cures to form a rubber-like material after printing. During the printing process, the ink is deposited as a series of horizontally aligned filaments (which can be fine as a human hair) in a single layer. The second layer of filaments is then placed in the vertical direction. This process repeats itself until the desired height and pore structure is reached.The researchers envision using their novel energy-absorbing materials in many applications, including shoe and helmet inserts, protective materials for sensitive instrumentation, and in aerospace applications to combat the effects of temperature fluctuations and vibration.SourceAlso: Read more Materials tech briefs.

Posted in: Manufacturing & Prototyping, Rapid Prototyping & Tooling, Materials, Aerospace, Defense, News

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Custom Surface Inspection System for Safety-Critical Processes

Researchers have engineered a high-precision modular inspection system that can be adapted on a customer-specific basis and integrated into the production process. Before a workpiece leaves the production plant, it is subjected to rigorous inspection. For safety-critical applications such as in the automotive or aerospace industries, manufacturers can only use the most impeccable parts.

Posted in: Cameras, Imaging, Manufacturing & Prototyping, Industrial Controls & Automation, Consumer Product Manufacturing, Test & Measurement, Measuring Instruments, Aerospace, News, Automotive

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NASA 3D Printing Technique Creates Metal Spacecraft Parts

Researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory are implementing a printing process that transitions from one metal or alloy to another in a single object. JPL scientists have been developing a technique to address this problem since 2010. An effort to improve the methods of combining parts made of different materials in NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission inspired a project to 3D print components with multiple alloy compositions.

Posted in: Manufacturing & Prototyping, Rapid Prototyping & Tooling, Materials, Metals, Aerospace, News

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NASA Engineer Set to Complete First 3D-Printed Space Cameras

By the end of September, NASA aerospace engineer Jason Budinoff is expected to complete the first imaging telescopes ever assembled almost exclusively from 3D-manufactured components.Under his multi-pronged project, funded by Goddard’s Internal Research and Development (IRAD) program, Budinoff is building a fully functional, 50-millimeter (2-inch) camera whose outer tube, baffles and optical mounts are all printed as a single structure. The instrument is appropriately sized for a CubeSat, a tiny satellite comprised of individual units each about four inches on a side. The instrument will be equipped with conventionally fabricated mirrors and glass lenses and will undergo vibration and thermal-vacuum testing next year.Budinoff also is assembling a 350-millimeter (14-inch) dual-channel telescope whose size is more representative of a typical space telescope.Should he prove the approach, Budinoff said NASA scientists would benefit enormously — particularly those interested in building infrared-sensing instruments, which typically operate at super-cold temperatures to gather the infrared light that can be easily overwhelmed by instrument-generated heat. Often, these instruments are made of different materials. However, if all the instrument’s components, including the mirrors, were made of aluminum, then many of the separate parts could be 3D printed as single structures, reducing the parts count and material mismatch. This would decrease the number of interfaces and increase the instrument’s stability.SourceAlso: Learn about an Image Processing Method To Determine Dust Optical Density.

Posted in: Cameras, Imaging, Photonics, Optics, Manufacturing & Prototyping, Rapid Prototyping & Tooling, Aerospace, RF & Microwave Electronics, News

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Engineers Use Resin Inks, 3D Printing to Build Lightweight Cellular Composites

Like other manufactured products that use sandwich panel construction to achieve a combination of light weight and strength, turbine blades contain carefully arrayed strips of balsa wood from Ecuador, which provides 95 percent of the world’s supply.As turbine makers produce ever-larger blades—the longest now measure 75 meters, almost matching the wingspan of an Airbus A380 jetliner—they must be engineered to operate virtually maintenance-free for decades. In order to meet more demanding specifications for precision, weight, and quality consistency, manufacturers are searching for new sandwich construction material options.Now, using a cocktail of fiber-reinforced epoxy-based thermosetting resins and 3D extrusion printing techniques, materials scientists at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have developed lightweight cellular composite materials.The work could have applications in many fields, including the automotive industry where lighter materials hold the key to achieving aggressive government-mandated fuel economy standards. SourceAlso: See more Materials tech briefs.

Posted in: Manufacturing & Prototyping, Rapid Prototyping & Tooling, Materials, Composites, Aerospace, Aviation, News

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Mobile Robots Help Technicians Manufacture Airplanes

A new mobile assistant is being developed to support technicians in the airplane manufacturing industry when applying sealant, measuring, and testing — without putting them at risk. In the EU project known as VALERI (Validation of Advanced, Collaborative Robotics for Industrial Applications), a European consortium is engineering a mobile robot that operates autonomously and moves independently through a production hall, side-by-side with the engineers and technicians. It is not intended to replace the technician, but instead relieve them of stressful and monotonous duties and take over inspection duties.

Posted in: Manufacturing & Prototyping, Industrial Controls & Automation, Sensors, Test & Measurement, Aerospace, Aviation, Machinery & Automation, Robotics, News

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