3D printing enters 'metal age'

The European Space Agency (ESA) is looking to take 3D printing "into the metal age" by building printed parts for jets, spacecraft and fusion projects that can withstand extreme loads and temperatures up to 3,000°C.

The first parts were demonstrated at London's Science Museum yesterday to celebrate the launch of the AMAZE project (Additive Manufacturing Aiming Towards Zero Waste & Efficient Production of High-Tech Metal Products). The €20million initiative will bring together 28 institutions to develop new metal components which are lighter, stronger and cheaper than conventional parts. "We want to build the best quality metal products ever made," said David Jarvis, head of new materials and energy research, ESA. "3D printers are expected to revolutionise the way we live but until recently they could work with only plastic, which is not very useful for many industrial applications. "This novel technology offers many advantages. 3D printing can create complex shapes that are impossible to manufacture with traditional casting and machining techniques. Little to no material is wasted and cutting the number of steps in a manufacturing chain offers enormous cost benefits. The AMAZE project began in January and factory sites are being set up in France, Germany, Italy, Norway and the UK to develop the industrial supply chain. The researchers have already begun printing metal jet engine parts and aeroplane wing sections up to 2m in size. "Our ultimate aim is to print a satellite in a single piece," said Jarvis. "One chunk of metal, that doesn't need to be welded or bolted. To do that would save 50% of the costs - millions of Euros."