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The Application of 3D Printing in Space Exploration

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1. How is 3D Printing being used in the Space Industry, and how will using it in Space be revolutionary for the technology?

A company by the name of Planetary Resources developed a spacecraft in 2014 that was fully made utilizing 3D technology. The craft was designed using CAD software and parts were printed using 3D printers. The final product cost and weighed significantly less than an average NASA satellite. The final product was designed to be rather simple and did not serve a very vital function, however the fact that a 3D printer could generate on object capable of spaceflight is amazing, this is especially amazing considering the fact the product only had approximately 12 moving parts. This is a tremendous step forward in the 3D printing industry and proves that 3D printing is not just a fad for hobbyists. A machine that is capable of producing spacecraft is likely to be capable of anything.

2. How are new reality capture platforms affecting the 3D printing market? What are some of these new methods for capturing data?

As 3D printing has continues to evolve over the years, reality capture has grown along with it. 3D scanners and photogrammetry technology has advanced greatly. Incredibly high resolution 3D models can now be created from equipment such as a basic smart phone. The software for reality capture has continues to evolve to create more complicated and complex, printable models. Handheld scanners can now be used almost anywhere to create a 3D model of nearly any object. High resolution cameras can be used in association with photogrammetry software to produce very detailed 3D models of real life objects. These higher resolution 3D models makes it possible for the final prints to be for accurate, detailed and of an overall high quality than ever before. As reality capture techniques continue to improve, the quality of models and their subsequent prints will improve as well.

3. What are some of the near future predictions for 3D printing according to industry leaders and researchers? Be sure to include information from videos and readings in your answer. In particular, review the videos from Avi Reichental and Ping Fu.

In the immediate future it is estimated that industries such as jewelry, toys, trinkets, ceramics, small gifts etc. will boom in the 3D printing world. It is possible that within ten years, 3D printing will simply be the way we produce small, simple items like these. Accessories and clothes will become easier and easier to produce as the technology advances. Large-scale industry products such as cars, boats, airplanes, spacecraft, factory machinery etc. will also begin to incorporate 3D printing more and more, however this will not be the norm for some time. The two biggest types of upcoming 3D printing are metal printing and bio printing. Metal printing is already possible and has been widely used and experimented with. As this process is perfected, large metal products such as cars will become much easier, cheaper and faster to produce. Bio printing is still in the experimental phases, however it is a quickly growing technology. Researchers are currently able to print skin directly onto injured body parts. Entire body parts such as ears have already been printed and researchers hope to soon be able to print larger organ such as livers and kidneys to implant into patients. Researchers and industry leaders in these fields see the many potential advantages of 3D technologies such as significantly less waste. A more important advantage though is the customization possibilities. The vast customization that comes with 3D technologies will allow consumers to help design and see exactly what they want far easier than ever before.

4. How is 3D Printing impacting art? What changes in the art sector are happening as a result of this technology?

Artists are now utilizing 3D CAD software to design art pieces such as sculptures. The softwares allow the artists to design for more complicated and obscure designs than they previously could. Handheld scanners allow artists to scan a person or item that they wish to an art piece. This scan can then be uploaded to computer software where the artist can alter the piece in any was that he or she pleases. The artist can then use the model as a model to build the finished piece by hand, or the artist can print the complex and edited model in a printer. Movies are now beginning to use 3D technologies such as scanners to help create digital and CGI effects. The special effects experts can use scanner to create models of people are places that can digitally rendered and placed into the movie. This allows the special effects team to create a fully CGI with much greater ease than ever before. Another advancement for art is the creation of sculpted portraits and busts. Now using LED lights and cameras in conjunction with photogrammetry and 3D scanners, incredibly accurate 3D models can be made of individuals who wish to have portraits made of themselves. These 3D models can then be printed for customer requiring the portrait using high quality 3D printers. This is a far cheaper and faster process than asking an artist to physically sculpt a portrait of someone.

5. In what ways will/has 3D printing impacted education, digital heritage, and learning, and provide five of your own predictions for 3D printing in the foreseeable future?

As a disruptive technology, 3D printing and 3D technologies have begun to change the way we do almost everything, including learning, teaching and heritage preservation. In the past, a teacher in a classroom for example would need to have objects on hand to teach with, or order these and have them shipped. Now, if the teacher has access to 3D printing, he or she can simply look up a model for the object she wishes to teach with and print it out. Instant access to teaching tools will continue to facilitate learning and interest in learning. For heritage preservation 3D scanning and photogrammetry have had very great impacts. Previously, in order to get a model of an artifact in the field, a researcher would have to press a material onto the artifact and create a mold. Now, researchers can simply scan the object with a handheld scanner and create a 3D model, which can then be printed. This allows researchers to have very high detailed images and models of the pieces they are studying without ever coming into physical contact with or ruining the piece.

In my opinion the most exciting thing on the horizon for 3D printing is bio printing. The ability to print skin directly onto wounded patient is incredible, without 3D technology this would never be possible. In the near future I predict that simple organ such as livers and kidneys will be printed in labs and implanted into patients. In the somewhat distant future I hope to see more complicated organs or even organ systems printed; these could include eyes, stomachs, intestines even hearts. The ability to 3D print a custom heart made from a person’s own muscle tissue would drastically change the medical world.

In the near future I also see 3D printing replacing the current manufacturing techniques for everyday items such as clothes, shows, jewelry, door handles, phone cases etc. I believe that the technology has advanced to the point where almost all production of simple items could be accomplished using 3D printing. This would also allow everyday items to be more customizable for the consumer as well as cut down on waste. I see a market where a consumer can walk into a store, show the clerk and pair of earrings she wants, and with in an hour the earrings will be printed and ready for her to wear. This type of production would be incredibly profitable based on the customization possibilities alone. As technologies continue to progress and improve I believe that it will become the norm to have 3D printed items such as dishware, clothes, jewelry etc.

With 3D printers and scanner becoming increasingly cheaper and cheaper I believe that it will become very normal for a person to have a 3D printer in their home. Most people have regular 2D printers already which most industry professionals thought would never happen. As 3D printers come down into the 200-300 dollar range I think that more and more people will buy printers for their private use. In home 3D printing would be very helpful for everyday fixes and basic needs. For example if a cabinet drawer breaks, one could easily be printed to replace it; or if a person needs a certain size wrench or drill bit they can easily print one up. In home 3D printing would be great for homemade gifts like jewelry or a custom picture frame, the possibilities or nearly endless. Of course these in home 3D printers would not be very high quality but they high enough to achieve basic prints as I have described. Decades down the road as printing technology increases, the quality of in home printers will continue to increase as well. I also see 3D software increasing to go along with the in home printer. I feel that it would be very useful to have an app on a smartphone that can scan an item, similar to 123D Catch; however, once this item is scanned and a model is created, the software would be able to create a verified model. This model could then be saved as an .stl file and printed directly from the smartphone via Wi-Fi. With companies like AutoDesk already working on 3D software continuously, I see an affordable or even free app that can accomplish this task in the near future.

With large scale industrial companies experimenting and working with 3D printing I see a large increase in 3D printed technologies such as cars, boats, aircraft and even spacecraft. Some companies are beginning to develop printers that can directly print concrete. With enough time and advancement in the 3D printing industry I see a time where homes and buildings can be directly printed. Of course advanced technologies likes these are in a slightly more distant future than others but I do believe they are very possible and will be somewhat common in the slightly distant future.

In the field of cultural and heritage research and preservation the advancements will be huge. As institutions like the Smithsonian and the British Museum continue to scan their pieces the library of 3D artifacts will grow dramatically. This will allow researchers and educators to have access to millions of ancient artifacts to study, learn and teach about. The online collection of 3D heritage artifacts will reduce the degradation of ancient pieces, as researchers will be able to study them without harming them with physical contact. This will also allow for objects to be on exhibit in museums because they will not be stuck in the basement under the eye of researchers. Researchers will still be able to study and learn about these pieces at the same time that they are on display.

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