By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer
Earlier this year, the company Thinker Thing revealed how they could build 3D-printed monster toys by reading the human mind. Well, no offense to them, but that’s child’s play compared to the futuristic 3D printing that’s going on over at the European Space Agency (ESA). You know, stuff like parts for jets, space rockets, and energy generators that hold the power of our Sun!
I know, it’s amazing right? That’s probably why the ESA chose to call their ambitious plans the AMAZE project, which is much easier to say than the full name – Additive Manufacturing Aiming Towards Zero Waste & Efficient Production of High-Tech Metal Products.
“We want to build the best quality metal products ever made,” said David Jarvis, who is the head of new materials and energy research at ESA. “Objects you can’t possibly manufacture any other way.” You see, traditional parts for large machines such as jets and rocket ships are usually built piece by piece. Not only does this burn time and money, it also burns expensive materials! On the other hand, the AMAZE project plans to use 3D printers to mold parts in a single go and waste little in the process! Getting rid of all the excess pieces – like bolts, nuts, and screws – means high-tech parts that are stronger, lighter, and just plain better overall.
For example, the AMAZE project team already printed a single piece of metal for an energy generator known as a fusion reactor, which essentially uses the same source of energy as our Sun! “To build a [fusion reactor]… you somehow have to take the heat of the Sun and put it in a metal box,” said Jarvis. Wow, that’s hot! Fortunately, because the piece was 3D-printed as a single unit, it’s really strong. In fact, it can withstand up to 5432 degrees Fahrenheit! “3,000C [5432 degrees Fahrenheit] is as hot as you can imagine for engineering,” explained Jarvis. “If we can get 3D metal printing to work, we are well on the way to commercial nuclear fusion.” Oh, and if that didn’t blow your mind, they’re already planning on using the printer’s power to build stronger cars, rockets, and jets!
Their ultimate mega goal for this new kind of 3D printing, is to craft one gigantic satellite from a single chunk of metal. Whoa! It won’t be easy, though, since there are still some problems with 3D printing. For example, the sides aren’t as smooth as they can possibly be and sometimes air bubbles creep in that can weaken the metal. However, Jarvis is confident that if more scientists combine their efforts – besides the 28 institutions already involved – their goals will be realized much quicker.
Considering how incredible these advances in 3D printing are, I find it amusing to note that Jarvis shares a similar name with Iron Man’s super intelligent computer, J.A.R.V.I.S.!
Featured image courtesy of NASA. Image of nuclear fusion reactor courtesy of ITER.