Nancy M.H. Holloway, Section Head
Advanced Fabrication Processes Section
Fabrication Technology Development Branch
NASA Langley Research Center
The Fabrication organization at NASA Langley Research Center (LaRC) is in the process of establishing a personal fabrication (pFab) lab for innovators to build quick and economical (plastic) parts and hardware with 3D desktop personal fabricators. The fabricators are low cost and designed to be modifiable and hackable. Recently, several of these economical fabricators were purchased, and upgrades have been made to enhance the performance, including:
- Installation of safety cutoff switches to turn off the heater circuit and prevent the cartridge heater from overheating.
- Interface board to independently operate the fabricator through an SD card so that a computer is not necessary to build a part.
- Installation of an automated heated build platform so that multiple objects can be printed consecutively without a person having to reload the drawing files.
NASA LaRC is interested in putting together a 3D personal fabrication group where information about upgrades, modifications, improvements, and questions can be shared to rapidly communicate information among interested users. Some of the topics that NASA LaRC is interested in exploring include creating higher-fidelity parts, post-processing of printed parts to improve the surface appearance, and increasing the speed at which parts can be printed without compromising the fidelity. Further, NASA LaRC is also interested in printing with space-qualified materials and in-space manufacturing with these systems.
Along with low-cost 3D printers, NASA LaRC is interested in learning of any new low-cost equipment developments on the horizon to further enhance and expand personal fabrication capabilities to the masses, such as low-cost systems that can directly print metals, ceramics, and/or combinations of these materials.
Technology challenges faced by NASA LaRC include improving the quality/fidelity of printed parts through economical means, possibly by either modifying the fabricator or developing post-processing techniques void of high labor costs (hand work) and/or environmental issues (chemicals), as shown in Figure 1. NASA LaRC is also looking to develop novel, low-cost fabrication systems to print fully instrumented models, as shown in Figure 2.