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3D Printing & Aerospace Engineering

Aerospace engineers have been involved in creating somesignificant feats! The “products” created have been involved in some high scalemissions and projects; they aren’t something to just buy at your local homedepot; almost every design and creation is entirely custom and unique. A teamof aerospace engineers had to work with specialized manufacturing firms tocreate these designs. How did/do they go about doing this kind of thing? Imean, we’re talking about rocket ships and satellites… each design is prettyunique.  So when a design is created by a team of aerospaceengineers, it obviously needs to be manufactured. Where do places like NASA goto have things manufactured? Well, the technicians at NASA would do quite a bitof the work, but having individual pieces manufactured require help from athird party in many situations. What’s been used to assist these governmentprojects? Machining. Machining has been used to help manufacture customdesigns. These pieces are created in machine shops, and require a specificstyle of design for products to work. This calls for the designers of thesegovernment agencies to sacrifice certain details and curves to create theirproducts. Unfortunately for the machining industry, 3D printing has been on therise. 3D printing? 3D printing is a form of manufacturing technology that canbe used to create entirely unique products, just like the products in themachining world. However, 3D printing has a few strengths to it that machiningdoes not. Aside from CNC cutting, 3D printing works much quicker thantraditional machining methods. There are a wide variety of materials availablein 3D printing, just like in machining, but there is one critical differencebetween the two. Machining essentially involves the drilling of a block ofmaterial. The only type of product through machining involves a drill bitcoming down upon a block. Sure, a table holding the block can twist and turn,but there are so many features sacrificed through machining. Through 3Dprinting, very intricate shapes can be developed which can’t be manufacturedthrough machining. Curves, grooves, and twists can be manufactured through 3Dprinting, while machining has to sit itself out. Hollow sections are veryplausible through many 3D printing applications, as the process often involvesa layer-by-layer powder based system – or a system that uses support material.Through the powder methods as well as support material methods, some parts in asingle build almost “float” within the build tray. Let me elaborate. An exampleof this would be a ball within a ball. When being built, a piece can almosthover inside of another, because the support or the loose powder will keep itin place.  This all equates to 3D printing being able to design muchmore intricate pieces than machining. 3D printing can bend the design ruleswhen it comes down to product development, and government projects are startingto get involved. Recently, the Pentagon ordered a 60 million dollar facility tobe built strictly for 3D printing purposes. Places like NASA are going togradually start leaving machining around and switch to 3D printing based off ofits ability to create intricate pieces. 

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