First Object Produced on 3D Printer During Earth Orbit

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2014-11-28 Print this article Print
3D printing on ISS

"As we print more parts, we'll be able to learn whether some of the effects we are seeing are caused by microgravity or just part of the normal fine-tuning process for printing. When we get the parts back on Earth, we'll be able to do a more detailed analysis to find out how they compare to parts printed on Earth," Werkheiser added.

The faceplate that was printed is engraved with the names of NASA and Made In Space. "We chose this part to print first because, after all, if we are going to have 3D printers make spare and replacement parts for critical items in space, we have to be able to make spare parts for the printers," Werkheiser said. "If a printer is critical for explorers, it must be capable of replicating its own parts, so that it can keep working during longer journeys to places like Mars or an asteroid. Ultimately, one day, a printer may even be able to print another printer."

The first objects that are produced on the printer in space will be returned to Earth in 2015 for detailed analysis, according to the space agency.

Today, the global 3D printing business is a $2.2 billion market that continues to grow, according to figures from Lux Research.

Worldwide shipments of 3D printers are expected to double in 2015 to 217, 350 units, up from 108,151 in 2014, according to figures released Oct. 27 by Gartner. Those figures include both consumer and enterprise-grade devices.

3D printing has been around for almost 30 years, used by a wide range of product manufacturers, aerospace companies and others to quickly design and produce prototypes, molds, one-off parts and more without having to invest lots of money and time. But in the last five years, 3D printing has been growing much faster as enterprises of all sizes find out they can buy a device for as little as $500 and begin trying out new ideas they never dreamed of in the past.


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