3D printers are becoming more popular and have more innovative improvements due to their wide use among hobbyist, dentist, jewelers, and now aerospace at the International Space Station. Creating an object, especially a tool suitable for space travel, involves a variety of materials, trained workers, individualized molds, and a series of expensive trials. The process is aimed mostly toward commercial and industrial products to help businesses save time and money. This is a process of rapid prototyping, and is aiming to foster the space industry as a whole.
HP Introducing Full Color and Metal Capabilities
President and CEO of HP Inc, Dion Weisler recently held a company meeting regarding the expectations and goals the company has in mind. Weisler touched on 3D printing, confirming HP’s promises of bringing full color and metal capabilities to their 2018 3D printing priorities. “We’re introducing a new lower-cost, more accessible 3D printing platform that prints in full color,” Weisler said, noting that these new prices are intended to make the printers more accessible to those that want the technology.
HP’s expansion from plastic to metal in their 3D printers will shake up a multi-trillion dollar manufacturing market. “Today’s 3D metal industry is focused primarily on specialized, high-value, and expensive applications.” Said Stephan Nigro, head of HP’s 3D printing department. “Our invention will transform the 3D metal industry into a more mainstream, high-volume production.” This will undoubtedly bring new product capabilities for space travel, and possibly introduce medical treatment for astronauts in space. According to NASA, NASA is also exploring how the microgravity environment may benefit how objects are designed and built in space for parts that cannot be made on the ground.
Possible Medical Treatment in Space
With more time being spent inside the International Space Station, 3D printing may offer the option for onsite medical treatment. Jason Chuen, Director of Vascular Surgery at Austin Health and a Clinical Fellow at the University of Melbourne, says 3D printing technology is going to transform medicine. “At the moment 3D printing is at the cutting edge of medical research, but in the future the technology will be taken for granted by all of us in healthcare,” he writes in the Medical Journal of Australia.
Here are a few medical space advancements professionals are discussing that may be revolutionized from 3D printing :
Bioprinting: There is no prediction of printing human organs, but possibly human tissue structures that perform the basic functions of an organ. This process could be an alternative to specific transplants.
Radiology: The University of Cincinnati says, “the most common use of 3D printing in radiology thus far has been within craniofacial and maxillofacial health care, as 3D-printed models can save time in operating rooms for surgeons and others.” 3D printing appears to be progressing faster toward radiology and imaging. Many see 3D printing as the next step in radiology’s evolution.
Transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR): This takes place when the aortic valve is damaged and patients undergo surgical treatment. According to Medical News Today, researchers may have found a way to boost the success of TAVR. Using 3D models, doctors can predict how well a prosthetic heart valve will fit a patient — a far better practice of cardiovascular imaging.
The Polypill. If an astronaut is required to take any amount of medications, 3D printing may be the best solution. Instead of taking five different prescribed pills that are meant to be taken at different times during the day, 3D printing is on it’s way to making one pill that contains all five prescriptions that are set set to release at specific times.
Educating New Astronauts
The largest part of any aerospace program is the ability to understand and apply the work around the latest in tech equipment. According to Maryville University, technology is changing access to the schooling experience, saying “Today’s college student is much more invested in technology than those of two decades ago.” 3D printing is at the forefront of this new technology and it’s revolutionizing prototypes and accessibility.
AdditiveManufacturing.com, a 3D printing news website says 3D printing technology is beneficial in many fields of education “particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects but also beyond these more traditional fields in music, design technology, history, geography and biology.” They continue by advocating 3D technology as a positive influence to the learning process, as it teaches trial and error to the students.
NASA has confirmed that the first object has been created in the International Space Station with a 3D printer. NASA called this 3D printed object a step to “paving the way to future long-term space expeditions.”