NASA's new "space fabric"


Looks a lot like centuries old chain mail to me.


Fair enough. That’s certainly working at a level of which I wasn’t aware. And you’re right that expensive and large quantities aren’t generally main drivers at JPL. My point remains, however, that producing multiple, identical, repeating pieces is generally not the strength of 3D printing when compared to other manufacturing methods.


Well, perhaps, but I think you’re talking about R&D work, rather than commercial manufacturing, where 3D printing is yet to demonstrate benefits in most mass-production processes. Which was my point. I don’t think we’re disagreeing here at all.


It’s for use in space, so you just vacuum it.


Cute. Very cute.


Wow that sounds really intriguing. Perhaps one day we may be able to create outer space habitats built automatically by a probe before humans come to use it, using local materials and ultra-tech additive manufacturing such as you suggest. If features like radiation protection, solar energy generators and strength against micro-impacts can be dialed in, you could imagine tents or domes made with such fabrics.


That’s simply not true either. The entire hearing aid industry, for example, is pretty much entirely additive manufacture.

Or for a smaller example, GE uses AM to produce jet nozzles not only with an architecture impossible to achieve in SM, but also at lower cost. Where previously they needed a complex of machines to produce a single nozzle, now they only need one. That’s not just R&D, that’s a business decision. The next 777 is slated to have an entirely 3d printed GE engine, and I have my doubts that Boeing would have made that contract if they weren’t seeing cost savings.

Speed and resolution are catching up to traditional SM processes, and as noted in some cases actually superior. Cost will inevitably fall as greater adoption across industry occurs, and there is an undeniable carrot to drive adoption- the ability to do away with re-tooling factories. Considering all the other benefits possible with AM like programmable properties, minimal resource waste, portability…

It’s only a matter of time.


NASA agrees, as do several startups trying to combine 3DP processes with
automated lunar or asteroid mining, metal refining, etc. It’ll be a long
time to develop, but it would greatly reduce the launch and labor
requirements for building things to be used in space


Plus when he’s not using it you can print new legos!


I’d go so far as to say the consensus ATM is that AM is the only way this is feasible.


My whole adult

of the things I’ve noticed inn thay time is that tone matters, and that STEM “experts” trend to be terrible at it.


Because squares give you straight line folds?


Is the hearing aid example restricted to custom fits? If so, it makes perfect sense. If you’re moulding standard plastic bits by the thousand, perhaps not so much. The GE example is a really good one, but not (yet) really an indication of “most mass production processes”. A friend works in automotive engineering and he has also described to me that some complex CFD-designed manifolds are only possible to make (practically) using AM. Greater engine efficiency is apparently the result. AM is coming, and will increase its (currently very small) share of general manufacturing, but the last hold out will likely be small bits that are required in the thousands or millions, unless there is some other functional driver.

Recyclability of materials is not obviously (to me at least) more practical in the lifecycle of AM processes compared to the lifecycle of other manufacturing processes. However, I’ll concede that using only what you need in the first place is a potential advantage of AM when compared to, say, CNC machining.


My understanding from reading the article is that is not how this fabric is made. It’s made as all one “piece” in the required shape or sheet.


I think you’re right about this application. Mass producing large numbers of identical things is still not the strength of 3D printing.


This article seems to indicate that the 3D printing replaces manual processes for custom-fit shells. That seems to be a perfect application for this technology. It’s not the same as mass production of identical parts, though.


straight line folds?

Triangles would give straight line folds in 3 directions.

Hexagons would give slightly squiggly straight line folds in 3 directions.


From this HBR article:

U.S. hearing aid companies converted to 100% 3-D printing in less than 500 days.

Also from the article:

In 2014 sales of industrial-grade 3-D printers in the United States were already one-third the volume of industrial automation and robotic sales. Some projections have that figure rising to 42% by 2020.

If those projections stay roughly true, it would naturally follow that the share of AM manufacturing will rise pretty significantly, and I’ve seen reputable share projections ~20%+ by the mid 20’s elsewhere.
By the time it hits 20%, IMO that’s ball-game, due to many other factors, i.e. supply chains and the previously mentioned waste (or lack thereof) of AM vs SM.

Another article at HBR here to give you a deeper nuts and bolts economic perspective than my armchair-ass is capable of providing. I should note that the author, Richard D’Aveni, while certainly a bit of a futurist, is very much a mainstream economist.

Edit: double-posted link


That article is from 2013, which was at the dawn of AM in the hearing aid industry (honestly I recognized it immediately-- I’ve put in a rather embarrassing amount of time researching AM for a layman-- I even tried to make sense of K. Eric Drexler’s thesis on molecular manufacturing despite not truly understanding the language ¯_(ツ)_/¯, and is the specific reason I discovered BB and Cory Doctorow!)

It’s mentioned in the previous article I cited that the hearing aid industry transitioned to AM in (I assume roughly) 500 days. A driver in that revolution is that it essentially became cheaper to produce custom hearing aids than standard ones. The advances in printing across the medical field as a whole is pretty freakin’ amazing. The implications of organ printing, for example, are pretty astronomical. The recent advances in AM prosthetics are likewise wild.

Honestly, it takes me a lot of work just tempering my enthusiasm about the subject. Philosophy is my primary refuge, because much of the fundamental science behind it is already in place. AM, nano and constant data are coming, whether we like it or not. What we do with that means everything. Just my two cents.


You’re convincing me. I see that GE were talking about printing perhaps 46,000 fuel nozzles at a 75% cost saving over conventional techniques. That’s actually pretty stunning. Consider me substantially educated.