ESA’s ‘AMAZE’ Project Aims to Take 3D Printing Into Metal Age
The European Space Agency (ESA) has revealed plans to take 3D printing into the metal age by building parts for terrestrial airplanes, spacecraft and advanced fusion projects.
An international panel of experts from the biggest consortium ever in ‘additive manufacturing’ met yesterday at the London Science Museum in the UK. The scientists unveiled a series of complex printed parts made of metal, some of which they claim are able to withstand temperatures of up to 3000°C – fit for both space and the most demanding applications on Earth.
ESA and the EU, together with industrial and educational partners, are developing the first large-scale production methods to 3D-print with metal. 3D printers are expected to revolutionise the way we live but until recently they could work with only plastic, which is not very useful for many industrial applications.
The AMAZE project – Additive Manufacturing Aiming Towards Zero Waste & Efficient Production of High-Tech Metal Products – brings together 28 institutions with an aim to design and develop new metal components that are significantly lighter, stronger and cheaper than conventionally manufactured parts. The consortium includes the likes of Airbus, Astrium, Norsk Titanium, Cranfield University, EADS, and the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy.
Titanium printed structure
3D printing, formally known as additive manufacturing, can create complex shapes that are impossible to manufacture with traditional casting and machining techniques. Newly developed fabrication technology such as Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) allows metal components to be printed directly from 3D CAD data. Little to no material is wasted and cutting the number of steps in a manufacturing chain offers enormous cost benefits.
“We want to build the best quality metal products ever made. Objects you can’t possibly manufacture any other way,” said David Jarvis, ESA’s current Head of New Materials and Energy Research.
“Our ultimate aim is to print a satellite in a single piece. One chunk of metal, that doesn’t need to be welded or bolted,” he added.
The AMAZE initiative began in January and factory sites are being set up in France, Germany, Italy, Norway and the UK to develop the industrial supply.