3D printing has come a long way in the past few years. When the first bits of 3D printing technology came into the mainstream, people were skeptical about the practical uses. They dismissed 3D printing as a gimmick that would achieve nothing beyond enthusiast use. But now there are 3D printing companies that are working on spacecraft parts for NASA.
PADT is not a massive company. It is located in Tempe, Arizona and currently employs around 100 people. But it is also responsible for producing 3D printed prototypes such as airline components, medical devices and soon NASA spacecraft! The company received a $125,000 grant from NASA to research the ways that 3D printing could help existing and future spacecraft.
And it is not the first contract NASA has signed related to 3D printing. The organization is currently testing a 3D printed rocket engine nozzle technology that could power future spacecraft.
3D Printing and Aerospace
The connection between 3D printing and the aerospace industry is well known. Mainstream airplane manufacturers such as Boeing are beginning to use 3D printed parts. These parts help to reduce the weight of commercial planes while retaining their structural integrity.
Two of the key figures at PADT is Eric Miller and Dhruv Bhate. A professor at the Arizona State University, Bhate is known in 3D printing circles for his study on how natural structures can improve man-made designs. For instance, his team studies natural structures such as honeycombs to see how they could improve the structural integrity and durability of man-made items.
The $125,000 grant provided to PADT will include Bhate continuing his research into natural structures to see if any of them could have a benefit for NASA as it builds the next generation of spacecraft.
3D Printing and the Medical Industry
The implications of 3D printing for the medical industry are substantial. There will be a time when the 3D printing of organs to help sick patients will seem normal. While that research is still ongoing, 3D printed prosthetics are already here. And they will help millions of patients who may not even have been able to receive proper prosthetics without this technology.
With 3D printing, the process of creating prosthetics is a lot more flexible and affordable. Prosthetics no longer cost an obscene amount of money, while it is a lot easier to create a prosthetic arm or leg that is the perfect fit for a patient. The result is affordable prosthetics that are specially tailored to the person who lost an arm or leg.
Mainstream 3D Printing
It is exciting to read about the different ways that 3D printing is changing industries, such as the medical and aerospace industries. But 3D printing also has mainstream commercial use. 3D printing and product distribution are linked, with the connection set to grow in the coming years.
There is a local mall in the United States where people can 3D print their designs, such as jewelry or statues. It is a remarkable process, where customers can come into the shop, have their body scanned in a certain pose, and then receive their statue two weeks later.
And recent news emerged regarding 3D printing and trucking logistics, with UPS launching a network where companies can request 3D printed products from around the nation. It would deliver the flexibility and cost savings of 3D printing to a wider audience.
For instance, companies that need to 3D print prototypes could request those models from the future UPS 3D printing network. It would help smaller companies use 3D printing to their advantage without needing to put down the capital to purchase a capable 3D printer.
The future of 3D printing is extremely bright. From its mainstream and “fun” applications to the work that is being done in the aerospace industry, there is much technological innovation to admire in this sector.