Latest Developments in AM: January 2024

23 February 2024
AM: January 24

Report by Danny Weller

As we begin this month of February, it is the perfect opportunity to reflect on all that January had to offer in the realm of Additive Manufacturing (AM). The industry has witnessed significant advancements in January 2024, showcasing groundbreaking developments across diverse sectors.

Notably, a consortium including Airbus Defence and Space, AddUp, Cranfield University, and Highftech Engineering has sent the first metal 3D printer to the International Space Station (ISS). This innovation, funded by the European Space Agency (ESA), represents a leap in on-orbit manufacturing capabilities, addressing the limitations of plastic printers on the ISS and enhancing astronauts’ autonomy.

Read on to find out more

AM: January 2024
Metal 3D printer for the International Space Station

First Metal 3D Printer For Space Sent To The ISS

 

A groundbreaking metal 3D printer, developed by a consortium including Airbus Defence and Space, AddUp, Cranfield University, and Highftech Engineering, is set to undergo testing aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Funded by the European Space Agency (ESA), the printer, launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on January 30, 2024, represents a significant leap in on-orbit manufacturing capabilities.

Additive manufacturing (AM) has transformed part design, from everyday repairs to spacecraft components. While plastic 3D printers have been on the ISS since 2014, the introduction of a metal 3D printer addresses the limitations of plastic in producing load-bearing structural parts, enhancing astronauts’ autonomy by enabling direct fabrication of tools and interfaces.

Despite mastering 3D printing on Earth, metal printing in space presents unique challenges. The experiment aims to evaluate the feasibility of metal printing in microgravity using two printers – the flight model on the ISS and the engineering model on Earth – producing samples for mechanical testing and microstructural analysis. The success of this initiative could significantly impact the sustainability and autonomy of human presence beyond Earth.

 

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Image: GA-ASI

MQ-20 launches Advanced Air-launch Effects platform Produced with Additive Manufacturing

 

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) has achieved a milestone by conducting the in-flight release of an Advanced Air-Launched Effects (A2LE) platform using additive manufacturing. The GA-ASI MQ-20 Avenger unmanned air vehicle successfully demonstrated this capability at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, on November 28, 2023. Collaborating with Divergent Technologies, GA-ASI rapidly and cost-effectively produced the A2LE demonstration vehicle entirely through additive manufacturing, showcasing the company’s ability to develop, manufacture, and test small unmanned aircraft systems (SUAS) with a controlled, low-risk approach.

The A2LE demonstration vehicle, meeting the captive carriage and ejection loads of the MQ-20’s weapons bay, highlights the potential of additive manufacturing when incorporated early in the design process. GA-ASI emphasizes the efficiencies gained by utilizing this manufacturing method. The success of this demonstration positions GA-ASI to further advance affordable, modular SUAS platforms tailored to meet warfighter needs at reduced costs and lead times compared to current systems.

Incorporating large numbers of air-launched effects is recognized as a crucial strategy in future warfare. A network of A2LEs, produced through additive manufacturing, could establish a persistent and expansive grid for surveillance, attack, enemy air defense suppression, or communication pathways. This innovative approach supports and enhances the capabilities of both current and future manned or unmanned platforms.

AM January 2024
Revo Foods FFX2 production method

Revo Foods launches Food Fabricator X2 for high-volume 3D food printing

 

Austrian Food-Tech startup Revo Foods has unveiled the Food Fabricator X2, the world’s first industrial production method for 3D-printed foods. This groundbreaking technology allows for the mass production of new food categories, including authentic whole-cut meat alternatives and products with customized shapes, structures, or textures. The Food Fabricator X2 features a novel multi-nozzle system, enabling continuous food production and marking a significant step in the industrialization of 3D food printing.

Utilizing a high-precision extrusion system, the Food Fabricator X2 enables the combination of different ingredients in any predefined structure, facilitating the production of previously “impossible” products. This innovation opens up the new food industry segment of “mass customization,” allowing flexible control over product parameters such as sizes, shapes, materials, or texture without the need for hardware adjustments during the process. As a part of Industry 4.0, 3D food printing digitizes the food industry, providing flexibility in responding to demand, producing different products in small batches, and reducing food waste.

Revo Foods is scaling up production capacity through 2024 and has introduced its first public investment opportunity to support the project. The company aims to complete the first stage of upscaling over the next two years, expanding production capacity in two additional major upscaling steps. The Food Fabricator X2 not only represents a technological milestone but also addresses global environmental challenges by offering sustainable alternatives to traditional fish and meat products. Revo Foods aims to revolutionize food production and create new alternatives using 3D technology and its flexible production system.

MIT unveils liquid metal printing: a revolutionary technique for rapid 3D printing of large-scale aluminium parts

 

MIT researchers have unveiled a groundbreaking additive manufacturing technique known as Liquid Metal Printing (LMP), enabling the rapid production of large-scale aluminium parts like table legs and chair frames within minutes. In the LMP process, molten aluminium is strategically deposited onto a bed of tiny glass beads, swiftly solidifying into a 3D structure. Although LMP sacrifices resolution for speed and scale, it proves at least 10 times faster than comparable metal additive manufacturing methods, capable of producing furniture-sized components in seconds. The MIT team showcased LMP by successfully 3D printing aluminium frames and parts for tables and chairs, highlighting its potential for creating functional furniture at a lower cost and larger scale.

Utilizing a high-precision extrusion system, the MIT researchers built a machine that melts aluminium, holds the molten metal, and deposits it through a nozzle at high speeds. This innovation allows large-scale parts to be printed within seconds, with the molten aluminium cooling in mere minutes. Despite the challenging control associated with the high process rate, LMP introduces new possibilities for metal manufacturing. The researchers aim to refine the technology’s reliability, envisioning a future where it could efficiently melt down recycled aluminium and print parts, revolutionizing the metal manufacturing industry.

AM: January 2024
Image: Emotion Tech

UK Enters Additive Manufacturing for the First Time at WorldSkills Competition in France

 

For the first time, the UK will compete in Additive Manufacturing at the WorldSkills Competition in Lyon, France, from September 10 to 15, 2024, as announced by WorldSkills UK this month. Participants for Squad UK were selected from top finalists at the inaugural WorldSkills UK additive manufacturing competition in 2023, where young individuals were tested on 3D design, 3D printing, and 3D scanning skills. The decision to enter Additive Manufacturing aligns with increasing employer demand, particularly in response to the ‘Skills for a net-zero economy’ report, emphasizing the need for participation in renewable energy and additive manufacturing at the global finals.

The finalists from the inaugural competition demonstrated exceptional knowledge and skills in hardware and software, surpassing expectations for a demo competition in its first year. Four out of the eight finalists have been selected to join Squad UK for the WorldSkills Competition in Lyon. The chosen team members represent various educational institutions, including the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, Grwp Llandrillo Menai, MTC, and UTC Sheffield. Preparation for the next edition of the WorldSkills UK Additive Manufacturing competition is underway, with winners having the opportunity to be selected for the Shanghai 2026 competition.

Steven Taylor, Technical Trainer at 3DGBIRE and CREATE Education Ambassador, expressed gratitude to everyone involved in the competition, acknowledging their contributions to its success. The decision to enter these skills aligns with WorldSkills UK’s commitment to addressing employer demands and ensuring UK participation in global competitions.

Summary

 

As we reflect on these developments, January 2024 has proven to be a pivotal month for AM, showcasing its transformative impact in diverse sectors. From pushing the boundaries of space exploration with metal 3D printing to empowering the UK’s entry into Additive Manufacturing competitions, these achievements underscore the growing significance of AM in shaping the future. Moreover, advancements like liquid metal printing by MIT and Revo Foods’ Food Fabricator X2 herald a new era in rapid and customizable 3D printing, promising sustainability, and mass customization. These breakthroughs lay the foundation for continued innovation and exploration in the realm of Additive Manufacturing throughout the coming year.

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