Why 3D Printing Might Have a Bigger Impact In Space Than On Earth

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Three-dimensional printing is an application where the digital world meets the physical world. It enables industries to make rapid prototypes and test out new ideas. While it has been used in labs and manufacturing for some time, it is now becoming a valuable process in transportation.

Since its invention, the capabilities of 3D printing have been impressive. Now it is able to create parts for airplanes, cars, trains, and buses.

Airplane 3D Printed Parts: Microvanes

Microvanes, which are engineered shapes mounted on aircraft fuselages, redirect airflow and help reduce carbon emissions. These complex parts have 20 unique elements. Microvanes are now being printed with 3D printers, which have been able to meet the stringent requirements for this important part of airplanes. However, it is not as simple as just buying a 3D printer and the materials. There is more involved than that as there are some many specifications and processes to consider. This new innovative way to produce microvanes is expected to break into the industry in the coming years.

Customization Advantages

One huge advantage of 3D printing for cars, trains, and buses is it allows for customization. As production of these transportation vehicles evolves, they will need to be suited for passengers and the environment. One way 3D printing is a catalyst for design changes in vehicles is replacing parts with lighter alternatives. Lighter vehicles are more fuel efficient.

3D printing can also manufacture spare parts that are custom. What if a city’s transportation fleet suddenly needed parts not readily available? Without a quick resolution, transportation could be interrupted.

GM Integrates 3D Printing into Production

Car manufacturers have been testing out 3D printing for some time, seeing which parts make sense to shift to this new technology. General Motors has actually been 3D printing for decades, mostly for making different molds. GM and other car manufacturers are looking for more ways to integrate 3D printing into production.

GM recently unveiled a stainless steel seat bracket—something drivers would never see. Previously, it took eight separate parts to build this, purchased from several different suppliers. Now, it is one continuous component that is 40 percent lighter and 20 percent stronger. GM sees this as an opportunity to continue making vehicles lighter, which could give them a competitive edge.

Olli – The 3D Shuttle Bus

A self-driving shuttle has been printed as well. Local Motors 3D printed the shuttle, named Olli. The design of the shuttle can be easily adjusted or altered depending on the city and its needs. With 3D printing, manufacturers can be more agile without having to disrupt manufacturing workflows.

Railway Vehicles: Stronger and Lighter

Run2Rail is a 3D printing project for railways. The objective of the project is to print railway vehicles. With carbon fibers as the material, the vehicles being produced are stronger and lighter. Lighter vehicles need less energy, making it eco-friendlier.

What will the future of transportation and vehicles look like? The answer to that is sure to involve 3D printing, as it helps transportation industry leaders develop more efficient parts at dramatically lower costs.

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