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June 7, 2014 10:37 AM   Subscribe

Lockheed Martin is in a race with SpaceX who recently made a big splash with 3D printed spacecraft parts. Lockheed shows its vision (video) for a next generation 3D printer, capable of printing not just parts but an entire plane as a print-job (c.f. previously war robots). This technology may perhaps combine with a new class of fractal nano supermaterials, which are stronger than steel but nearly as light as air, the promise to create mass produced ultra-light vehicles, aircraft and other things.
But what if you could build an electric car so light that you could (if you were so inclined) lift it with your hands, with a range in the thousands of miles, and that was still as structurally strong as a normal car? Or what if you could build a bridge using only one percent of the materials that would normally be required? According to Julia Greer, professor of materials science and mechanics at Caltech, the technology that would allow us to do that might soon be within our reach.
posted by stbalbach (34 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Being able to manufacture replacement parts in orbit/transit -- rather than having to haul them along with us out of Earth's gravity well and store them indefinitely -- would be a game changing development. Particularly when it come to the feasibility of crewed missions into deep space.

Looking forward to seeing how this all continues to develop.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 10:46 AM on June 7 [1 favorite]


This is the coolest ever possible threat to my job.
posted by Foosnark at 10:47 AM on June 7 [11 favorites]


stbalbach: "capable of printing not just parts but an entire plane as a print-job"

"PC LOAD SPACESHIP"? What the fuck does that mean?!
posted by Riki tiki at 10:50 AM on June 7 [37 favorites]


Also, if my printer reports a "SPACE JAM" error, I don't believe I can fly.
posted by Riki tiki at 11:19 AM on June 7 [31 favorites]


Yes, wood (from) and bone are wonderful indeed.
posted by the Real Dan at 11:27 AM on June 7


I have little of value to add beyond what's in the excellent articles, but I feel like I should comment just for the benefit of others like me who skim the front page looking for high numbers of comments as a signifier of interesting posts.

My qualm about 3d printing for real manufacturing was that I wasn't sure they'd ever come up with a way to make their best results (e.g. sintered metals) as strong as what the best subtractive processes can give you. I still don't see how they're going to scale these nanostructures up, but even "dumb" processes like composites with anisotropic internal reinforcement will probably keep the 3d printing crowd happy until someone figures out how to get the more scientifically astonishing results into mass production.

It's also nice, as someone who studied MechE during the dot com boom, to feel like *my* team is the one at the forefront of technology again. How do you like us now, computer geeks!?

/me leaves to go try and debug a segfault. at least it's a fluid dynamics code...
posted by roystgnr at 11:31 AM on June 7 [5 favorites]


Combine this with 3D printed bio-materials and the next stage of evolution could be printed lifeforms.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 11:35 AM on June 7


Also, if my printer reports a "SPACE JAM" error, I don't believe I can fly.

I liked this comment but while scowling and shaking my head
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:38 AM on June 7 [9 favorites]


My qualm about 3d printing for real manufacturing was that I wasn't sure they'd ever come up with a way to make their best results (e.g. sintered metals) as strong as what the best subtractive processes can give you.

For metallic printing I've seen some moves towards melt pool processes that fully melt the deposited powder rather than just sinter it, and that seems to help reduce the porosity. From there it's a (highly nontrivial) matter of dialing in the laser power and scan speed to get the microstructure you want. I've seen results for a few cases with properties comparable to wrought alloys without any postprocessing, but I think it'll be a few more years before we can do that for arbitrary alloy/geometry combinations.
posted by anifinder at 11:46 AM on June 7 [5 favorites]


Oh man, my super high tech lightweight car blew away again. I hope it didn't make it over the parking lot fence this time.
posted by procrastination at 12:14 PM on June 7 [3 favorites]


Well, yeah, but what if you could fold it up and store it in a closet?
posted by dhartung at 12:25 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]


For metallic printing I've seen some moves towards melt pool processes that fully melt the deposited powder rather than just sinter it... I've seen results for a few cases with properties comparable to wrought alloys without any postprocessing, but I think it'll be a few more years before we can do that for arbitrary alloy/geometry combinations.

And then there's the issue of residual stresses across the component, as different parts of the component cool at different times. These generally have horrible, horrible impacts on the fatigue life in comparison to wrought or forged components.

You can relieve these stresses by heat-treating the whole part but that's going to need a big furnace if you've just printed a plane. Oh, and the shape will distort as the stresses relieve, so instead of printing the shape of the plane, you'll be wanting to print the shape plus a bunch of adjustments so that when it distorts, it distorts into the shape you're after. This is non-trivial.
posted by happyinmotion at 12:29 PM on June 7 [5 favorites]


Simple. If your car keeps blowing away all you need to do is to equip it with a 2 ton steel anchor.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 12:33 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]


Probably won't have Mac drivers.
posted by birdherder at 12:36 PM on June 7


Well, yeah, but what if you could fold it up and store it in a closet?

If you can't drive a car faster than walking speed or drive it anywhere the wind is blowing faster than walking speed... it's still useful in a certain limited sense but, uh, some further engineering might be warranted.

My example of the crazy paradigm-shifting stuff you could do with a near-weightless material stronger than steel is a vacuum dirigible, which has been a dream of inventors since the Renaissance... and then we can also build floating ammonia-mining derricks on Saturn, haul gigatons of fuel to Earth to power our near-weightless cars, and if you think this is global warming now you ain't seen nothin' yet.
posted by XMLicious at 12:47 PM on June 7 [3 favorites]


Well, yeah, but what if you could fold it up and store it in a closet?

And brain transplants! And teleportation!
posted by Brocktoon at 12:58 PM on June 7


Another one that comes to mind—I remember reading a science fiction story at some point where the protagonist, asked by an alien to assassinate another human, is provided with a clockwork gun, which fires bullets by storing mechanical energy in super-springs and thus can't be detected by security mechanisms that are looking for batteries or chemical propellants. I'd swear it was something by Larry Niven but casual Googling turns up nothing.
posted by XMLicious at 1:01 PM on June 7


And brain transplants! And teleportation!

Actually, my first thought was flying cars - doesn't change the passenger+power source weight vs. lift ratio, but does reduce the structure weight to near-zero.
posted by Ryvar at 1:02 PM on June 7


Combine this with 3D printed bio-materials and the next stage of evolution could be printed lifeforms.

Who. You just blew my mind. I mean, I've been paying attention to bio 3d printing in that "holy shit, this is so the future." but hadn't considered what would happen if we put all the parts together. I mean, we're surely a long way off from that; the brain seems it would be particularly tricky. Then again, I just saw that we've been able to 3d print pituitary glands. This tech is moving at break neck speeds.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 1:05 PM on June 7


Being able to manufacture replacement parts in orbit/transit -- rather than having to haul them along with us out of Earth's gravity well and store them indefinitely

Only if you can get the material on orbit -- otherwise, you still have to haul the feedstock up. It would help with very large-but-light parts, where the limiting factor is the diameter of the payload fairing. One example -- a large space telescope where you can make the 10m mirror on orbit, rather than having to have the mechanism to fold a 10m segmented mirror into a 5m payload fairing means you're not hauling that mechanism out of the gravity well.

The big win is twofold. First, if thing just mass less, they're easier to get into orbit. Second, if you can build them on orbit, all you have to boost is feedstock, which is easy to pack.

Being able to cut the mass of the booster without losing strength is also big help -- mass that's booster is mass that isn't payload.

Cutting the mass of the car while maintaining the same strength is a win, as long as you don't compromise crash safety, of course. But if you could cut a 4 door sedan from 1000kg to 300kg, that's a win that starts another win. With 700kg less mass, a smaller engine gives you the same performance, which means fuel economy is up and the mass is reduced further.

I don't see how you make a folding car with decent crash protection. The passenger compartment has to be rigid for it to work.
posted by eriko at 1:08 PM on June 7


This tech is moving at break neck speeds.

Seems appropriate here.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:13 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]


The 3D printed spaceship is a nice stunt but I wouldn't want to ride in it. 3D printers are simply a powerful tool that has been added to the manufacturing arsenal -- it's very unrealistic to expect them to replace everything else.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:14 PM on June 7


XMLicious: AFAIR, Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds had a wind up clockwork gun like that. "A thing of intense, evil beauty".
posted by Grimgrin at 2:05 PM on June 7 [2 favorites]


3D is a force that gives us meaning.
posted by Substrata at 3:49 PM on June 7


And the first thing we're going to build, with this awesome new technology?

Better tools for killing people...
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 4:00 PM on June 7


Riki tiki: ""PC LOAD SPACESHIP"? What the fuck does that mean?!"

It means your Paper Cassette (as opposed to manual feed path) is out of paper and the printer is expecting SPACESHIP size paper.

eriko: "But if you could cut a 4 door sedan from 1000kg to 300kg, that's a win that starts another win. With 700kg less mass, a smaller engine gives you the same performance, which means fuel economy is up and the mass is reduced further. "

Sadly for the last 30 years or so for all but the most high buck of sports cars a reduction in minimum weight has been closely followed by an increase in features or an increase in size. Heck a 2014 Accord weighs more than a 55 Chevy. A 700kg reduction in structural mass probably means standard back seat Jucuzzis or something.
posted by Mitheral at 5:51 PM on June 7 [2 favorites]


back seat Jacuzzi or something.

You say this like it is a bad thing. You and Ze Frank and I are going to invent the drinking game for our self driving Jacuzzi car.
posted by poe at 10:14 PM on June 7


But what if you could build an electric car so light that you could (if you were so inclined) lift it with your hands

Having ridden a 250cc motorcycle on the highway, a car that light would be pants-shiitingly frightening ina crosswind. Or near a semitrailer unit. Or over a puddle. Or... actually, at highway speed, it would always be awful.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:26 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]


a car that light would be pants-shiitingly frightening ina crosswind.

It is decided then. The Jacuzzi comes standard,.. for safety.
posted by Hicksu at 12:44 AM on June 8 [2 favorites]


The first world really has it going on
posted by mattoxic at 4:39 AM on June 8


I am so freaking stoked about the printed engine parts and the Made In Space project. That's just beautiful.

The big win of printing in orbit is that you don't know what you're going to need in advance. Right now you have to pack spares for everything you might need to replace: every bracket, panel, or whatever. If you don't have a replacement you have to send it up in the next cargo transfer, and hope you don't need it to survive in the intervening months. Printing lets you get that replacement part right now, and you can use all the mass you send up, instead of only the small fraction that's in the form you predicted you'd need.

Somewhat less stoked by Lockheed Martin's "we only know how to make bombers" video. It wasn't so long ago that military spending was trumpeted as an engine of American innovation. Now they're just knocking off half-decade old technologies developed by Dutch furniture designers.

It's also nice, as someone who studied MechE during the dot com boom, to feel like *my* team is the one at the forefront of technology again. How do you like us now, computer geeks!?

Would have liked you more if you were pitching in five years ago when a bunch of computer geeks were designing 3-d printers. ;P

posted by phooky at 8:56 AM on June 8


Buy stock in graphene manufacture.
posted by Twang at 1:14 PM on June 8


Having ridden a 250cc motorcycle on the highway, a car that light would be pants-shiitingly frightening ina crosswind. Or near a semitrailer unit. Or over a puddle. Or... actually, at highway speed, it would always be awful.

Adaptive aero will take care of that.
posted by Soupisgoodfood at 5:30 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]


eriko: "Only if you can get the material on orbit -- otherwise, you still have to haul the feedstock up. It would help with very large-but-light parts, where the limiting factor is the diameter of the payload fairing."

This is why I think that the current habit of deorbiting and burning satellites is not long term thinking. Any stuff we sent up there is stuff which, theoretically, wont need to send up there again.

They should just create parking orbits and move all the decommissioned satellites to those orbits.

Someday, we will be able to create a machine that can take these parts as raw material and spit them out as new components. Those guys would be thanking us for saving them the fuel and effort to take all that material from earth surface to space.

And we should be actively working on creating machines which can take these parts as inputs and recycle them into new parts needed.

Edit: Ah, the made in space project. we have started in that direction, I see.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 11:51 AM on June 9


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