At a glance it can seem that most of this 3D printing stuff is all about making little plastic tchotchkes, but regular readers know that’s not the case. There are biomedical applications, prototyping and mass production methods, large-structure printing, and even aerospace utilization. That last one requires high tensile metals, which of course come out of a growing selection of metal printers.
Current printers can produce high resolution parts in steel, bronze, titanium, inconel, cobalt chrome, and nickel. Some of these metals are already in the field, replacing cast metals in industrial settings; several companies have stated that the printed components outperform their cast counterparts, all while costing less and taking less time to manufacture. But when you’re talking about aerospace, the metals have to be the best of the best. Cost, weight, efficiency, and most importantly, safety, are all dependent on the materials. That’s why fighter jets contain “super alloys,” metals forged to be especially strong, light, and resilient to heat. And the AMAZE project aims to bring those kinds of metals to 3D printers.
AMAZE stands for Additive Manufacturing Aiming Towards Zero Waste & Efficient Production of High-Tech Metal Products. Yeah, I’m not sure what their acronym person was thinking. Still, a great project. It’s a collaborative effort involving the European Space Agency and a couple dozen other organizations including Airbus, EADS, and the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, and there are already factory sites being set up in France, Germany, Italy, Norway, and the UK to develop and establish the industrial supply chain. “We want to build the best quality metal products ever made. Objects you can’t possibly manufacture any other way,” said David Jarvis, ESA’s Head of New Materials and Energy Research. Of course, THREE 3D printed rocket engines have been successfully tested already, but the AMAZE group has more extreme applications in mind: fusion reactors.
Inside of something like the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, temperatures may get as high as 3000C, so the bar is set pretty high for these printed metals. And if that’s not enough, “Our ultimate aim is to print a satellite in a single piece. One chunk of metal, that doesn’t need to be welded or bolted,” said Jarvis.