produced in low volumes, additive manufacturing can provide a solution with
strong, lightweight parts built faster and more cost effectively than with traditional methods like injection molding or machining,” says Bill Camuel, project
engineering manager, Stratasys Direct Manufacturing, Edina, Minn.
In early 2014, Lockheed Martin announced its use of 3-D printing technology in the overhaul of its A2100 satellite, a commercial communications
satellite that deployed more than 800 spacecraft and 300 payloads over the
past 50 years. The company sought 3-D printing to streamline its manufacturing efforts, stating the technique provided the two advantages of weight
and schedule reduction. Both of the advantages would also drive costs lower.
Lockheed Martin used Stratasys’ fused deposition modeling (FDM) 3-D
printing technology in the task, and used the 3-D printed titanium parts to
test form, fit and function before moving the satellite into full-scale production. The fuel tanks for the satellite were also prototyped using 3-D methods.
By 3-D printing the satellite parts, the mass reduction translates into reduced
launch costs for customers and can also lead to increased capability by adding expanded payload capacity. The faster the company can produce parts,
the sooner they can deliver and launch the satellites into orbit.
Later in 2014, RedEye, a Stratasys company, partnered with NASA’s Jet
Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to 3-D print 30 phased array supports for
the FORMOSAT- 7 Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere, and Climate (COSMIC- 2) satellite mission. Scheduled for launch
in 2016, and 2018, the COSMIC- 2 mission marks the first time 3-D printed
parts will function externally in outer space. The antenna arrays will capture
atmospheric and ionosphere data to help improve weather prediction models and advance meteorological research on Earth.
JPL needed an alternative to machining the array parts out of Astroquartz,
the materials traditionally used for the arrays, in order to keep the project
on time and budget. So, JPL turned to RedEye to produce 3-D printed parts
that could handle the complex array designs and also be strong enough to
withstand the demands of outer space. The parts were custom-designed
using FDM and durable ULTEM 9085 material, a thermoplastic with similar
strength to metals like aluminum, but weighing less. The material served its
purpose in the intricate design of the arrays, pushing the satellite closer to its
FDM and laser sintering 3-D printing techniques offer obvious advantages
for low-volume production in the aerospace industry as they have no tooling
costs. Also, a complex design is almost as easy to manufacture as a simple
one. Overall the technology offers many opportunities for lightweighting
components, and eliminates the level of waste produced by subtractive technologies.
The doctor’s in
In 2012, the story of four-year-old Emma struck the world. Emma couldn’t
use her arms to eat or play as she was born with athrogryposis multiplex
congentia (AMC). However, the moment her mom, Megan Lavelle, learned
about the Wilmington Robotic EXoskeleton (WREX), an assistive device
made of hinged metal bars and resistance bands, she knew it would change
her daughter’s life. The device was developed to enable children with underdeveloped arms to play and feed themselves, allowing them to have the arm
function of a normal child.
However, for Emma to wear the WREX device, the primary developers
Tariq Rahman and Whitney Sample needed to scale it down both in size
and weight, as the metal was too heavy for the little girl. To aid in this task,
a Stratasys 3-D printer was used to prototype the WREX in ABS plastic.
The difference in weight allowed the developers to attach the Emma-sized
WREX to a little plastic vest. The 3-D printed WREX turned out to be durable enough for everyday use.
As Emma continues to grow, the device can be resized to help her arms
function. The WREX, overall, unlocked a world of abilities and hope for her
While Emma is just one example, in the medical industry, 3-D printing
promotes patient-specific products, such as implantable components and
cutting/drilling guides. Titanium and cobalt chrome alloys are in use now,
and the pace of adoption is accelerating.
According to Andy Snow, SVP, EOS North America, “The first laser-sin-tered acetabular hip cup was a lonely pioneer, but will soon be joined by
customized implants for shoulders, fingers and bone plates.” These components can be manufactured at a light weight with surfaces and porosity that
promote bone growth/ostia integration.
It isn’t just metals in medicine though, Snow says. EOS has already seen
patient-specific plastic drill guides for surgery. PEEK materials are used for
non-load bearing applications–maxillofacial and cranial skull plates–and the
use will grow in the years ahead.
The freedom to redesign complex production parts is also important, particularly for medical devices that might be altered after clinical trials reveal
required design changes.
According to Camuel, Stratasys Direct Manufacturing recently worked
with a medical device manufacturer on the production of a new catheter
technology, which includes an innovative thermoplastic socket and console
design. Since the likelihood of design modifications was high and the pro-