Making Possible High-Temperature 3D-Printing in Space

Repairing In Zero Gravity

A joint effort of engineer-researchers from the University of Sydney and University of Science and Technology of China is proving that under simulated orbital conditions, high-temperature 3D printing is possible. There is a lack of heat transfer in space, and systems that use high-temperature will in themselves overheat. However, they proved that using a new 3D printer they developed with special controllers, it can be realized.

Did you know that more than 2,500 satellites have been orbiting the Earth in the last 70 years? These satellites are vital for navigation and communication with Earth, they guide space missions, and provide imaging, scientific surveying, and others. If they fail they can impede operations, throw it off-course, and do damage to other satellites or vehicles by the debris they may discharge. Hence, they need servicing from time to time or as needed. This is accomplished via on-orbiting manufacturing, which is less expensive than rocket missions being launched from Earth with all their repair equipment.

However, the cost of on-orbit manufacturing is becoming more costly, forecasted to reach $6.2 billion by 2030. The researchers aim to reduce the cost in this area by highlighting the success of their 3D printing experiments. Using FDM 3D printing, it’s possible to produce PEEK satellite spares in-orbit. PEEK plastic is one of the most utilized thermoplastic materials in aerospace. A newly developed 3D printer with Proportional Integral (PI) controllers is able to operate at up to 400°C in a vacuum, making it ideal for future orbital repair missions.

Thermal Control

Their prototype FDM 3D printer with an upgraded thermal control is complete with heat bar, block, sink, strap, extruder and radiator. With increased heat straps between the device’s heat sink and radiator, the temperature of its central tube is more effectively controlled, while preventing melted filament backflow during material feeding. They also introduced a PI control system that acts as a failsafe device designed to kick in at temperatures of 380°C, enhancing the precision of its thermal control features, but also preventing overheating and risking repair errors.

This is one of additive manufacturing’s ambitious space applications. In the future, if their prototype printer can be successful in end-use applications, the team believes it could help reduce the cost and time of space exploration by conducting repairs that do not need additional mission launches.


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3D-Printed Meat-Like Foods: For Health and Sustainability

Personalizing Meals

A research team from Zhejiang University, China, is on its way to developing 3D printable food alternatives that have the nutritional value of real meat sans the associated health and sustainability costs.

Question is, why do we need to 3D print food in the first place? This works well for those who need to personalize their meals. Meals with carefully selected amounts of protein, sugar, fats, vitamins and minerals enable people with issues like allergies, weight control, special dietary requirements, and those who are elderly, have certain illnesses, and those who serve in the armed forces, to find this a welcome alternative.

Another advantage offered by the China team research is that their food alternative is composed of ingredients that are plant-based, such as soy protein, pea protein, and wheat gluten that are of high nutritional value. They also came out with a successful formulation featuring cocoa butter as a component, which is a fat extracted from the cocoa bean. For printing, the team have developed a number of new edible plant-based gel materials that can be used to 3D print meat-like foods. The extrudability and accuracy of printing of their choice alginate of protein, starch and sodium were well studied and reported.

The researchers know of the issues gaining prominence in mainstream media with regards to healthy eating, sustainability, and animal ethics, and their plant-based meat alternatives are the answer. The
‘fake meat’ revolution, relying on soybeans, wheat, or peas, is necessary to maintain the texture and nutrients of real meat.

For example, soy, which offers an excellent source of protein, also eliminates cholesterol and saturated fats found in most red meats. Adding right amounts of cocoa butter, the emulsifier Tween-80, and sodium alginate were essential to achieving a superior 3D printing performance. The heat-sensitive cocoa butter was useful in providing fluidity during the high-temp printing process, making the gels more extrudable, and at room temperature, solidity, so the printed structures maintain their shapes.

Several companies are already thriving in the 3D printing food sector, like Redefine Meat and MeaTech, whose products are found in some high-end restaurants.


Regulating Medical Devices 3D Printed at Point of Care

3D Printed Where Needed

Medical 3D printing has made such advances as to deliver healthcare directly to patients at the Point of Care or PoC. Now 3D manufactured devices, models, implants, and other health devices can be produced on site, such as in hospitals and clinics. The US FDA, though, sees it fit that such practices are regulated.

Clinical point of care (PoC) is the actual site of patient care. This is the point in time when clinicians deliver healthcare products and services to patients. Since medical 3D printing has amazingly evolved such that medical devices, models, guides, implants, among others, can be readily obtained, patients need not endure a long waiting time for their diagnosis and treatment. These products can be printed at clinics or hospitals enhancing the significance of PoC.

However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Center for Devices and Radiological Health, or CDRH, realizes the possible uses of PoC 3D printed medical devices to the public and sees fit to establish regulations for this application.

A discussion paper on the subject, found on the FDA website, aims to generate feedback from the public as the agency develops policy. It is not yet providing specific guidelines. The document includes the background of the technology, its regulation by the FDA so far, and the relationship between a 3D printing facility and the safety and effectiveness of a medical device. Challenges to 3D printing devices at PoC and how regulatory oversight might be applied in different situations are offered.

Back in 2017, the FDa had already started regulating medical 3D printing of products outside of PoC. It already contained some guidelines which regulated the PoC printing initiatives of some of the AM giants, like Stratasys, RIZE, and 3D Systems, including the bioprinted tissues of Poietis. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, 3D printing was crucial in producing ventilator parts, masks, and nasal swabs, sometimes with the aid of on-site AM laboratories.

When regulations and guidelines are already established, it will not only benefit medical items produced at PoC, but also general goods can be made readily available at the point of use. This will jumpstart the future of distributed manufacturing. Furthermore, some 3D printing companies may open up locations in particular regions to 3D print spares on-demand for pick-up. This is a significant development not only for medical 3D printing but for the industry as a whole.


3D Printing At Point of Use

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Better 3D Printing Initiatives For the Space Sector

Prototyping For Space And Beyond

AML3D is Australia-based and a renowned metal 3D printing bureau that provides additive manufacturing on demand services. It specializes in large scale 3D metal printing for manufacturing, aerospace, defence, maritime, mining, and other industries.

It uses its patented wire additive manufacturing (WAM) technology which works by combining electric arcs with welding wires as feedstock to produce large-scale free-form parts.

Now AML3D, from Adelaide, is making its first entry into the space sector through a partnership with a still undisclosed US aerospace firm. Using the WAM process, AML3D will produce a specialized 3D printed high-strength, corrosion-resistant alloy prototype part for the company in its first move into the space exploration supply chain. The technology is particularly suited to the fabrication of bespoke parts with high-performance materials like titanium.

The high-strength and robustness afforded by WAM technology are what attracted the US aerospace company to AML3D. The process is also more cost-effective compared to traditional casting, forging or billet machining methods. AML3D considers the collaboration a recognition of their capabilities in the field of space exploration.

The space exploration sector is a rapidly growing field and it may also be a great opportunity for AML3D to expand their strategy into the North American market. It has strong R&D initiatives and demonstrated space sector prototyping expertise to play a wider role in this booming industry.


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How 3D Printed Aids Can Save Cost In Education

Helping The Teacher To Engage Students

Did you know that teachers who use 3D printed learning aids can save a lot for their teaching institutions? According to researchers from Michigan Technological University, as much as 86% of total cost savings can be realized with 3D printed products compared to purchasing from retailers like Amazon. In fact a total cost of $1.7 million has been saved so far by the education community as found out by the research team when 38 designs that were 3D printable were assessed and evaluated.

3D Printers in Schools

Many schools have used 3D printers for some time. Others have used 3D printed models to engage students in medical, dental, and nursing schools, which visualize the basics of anatomy. Likewise, 3D models increased student engagement in engineering, architecture, and design. Some schools have their own 3D printing labs with the help of industry partners.

The MTU study investigates the economics of classroom-based 3D printing of open-source digital designs of learning aids, focusing on the use of open-source desktop 3D printers. With 38 learning aid examples (clock, brain model, spinal cord model, combustion engine, Pythagorean theorem visual, etc.), using LulzBot 3D printers and 3mm PLA filament, the researchers analyzed the functionality, physically printed and calculated mass ratios, and 3D printer energy consumption to determine a dollar-to-kilogram cost for printing. They also calculated the economic viability of the designs, taking into account their printing and assembly costs, and compared them to equivalent or inferior commercial products.

Their analysis was that manufacturing the average learning aid themselves translated to 86% savings to teachers. Also, having a 3D printed learning model instead of purchasing one is equivalent to savings of 1 kg of commercial filament. Additionally, the average learning aid can also be downloaded 1,500 times, meaning it can be potentially distributed worldwide. Per year, each design means a savings of $11,800 and a total of $450,000 savings with the 38 designs. The return on investment would be more than 100%.

At the BETT 2020 tech show, there is a goal of bringing more 3D printers into schools due to the benefits of 3D printing and 3D design into learning institutions.


Designing and Printing For Teaching

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