The European Space Agency (ESA) has unveiled plans to “take 3D printing into the metal age” by building parts for jets, spacecraft and fusion projects.
The AMAZE project brings together 28 institutions to develop new metal components which are lighter, stronger and cheaper than conventional parts.
Additive manufacturing (or “3D printing”) has already revolutionized the design of plastic products.
Printing metal parts for rockets and planes would cut waste and save money.
The layered method of assembly also allows intricate designs – geometries which are impossible to achieve with conventional metal casting.
Parts for cars and satellites can be optimized to be lighter and – simultaneously – incredibly robust.
Tungsten alloy components that can withstand temperatures of 3,000C were unveiled at AMAZE’s launch on Tuesday at London Science Museum.
At such extreme temperatures they can survive inside nuclear fusion reactors and on the nozzles of rockets.
“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.
“To build a [fusion reactor], like Iter, you somehow have to take the heat of the Sun and put it in a metal box.
“3,000C is as hot as you can imagine for engineering.
“If we can get 3D metal printing to work, we are well on the way to commercial nuclear fusion.”
AMAZE is a loose acronym for Additive Manufacturing Aiming Towards Zero Waste and Efficient Production of High-Tech Metal Products.
The 20 million-euro project brings together 28 partners from European industry and academia – including Airbus, Astrium, Norsk Titanium, Cranfield University, EADS, and the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy.
Factory sites are being set up in France, Germany, Italy, Norway and the UK to develop the industrial supply chain.
AMAZE researchers have already begun printing metal jet engine parts and aeroplane wing sections up to 2m in size.
These high-strength components are typically built from expensive, exotic metals such as titanium, tantalum and vanadium.
Using traditional casting techniques often wastes precious source material.