NASA is finding all sorts of ways to apply additive manufacturing to their business model and they aren't shy about handing out grants if it gets the job done. They've recently funded research into 3D printed food, printing with lunar soil and even 3D printed metal parts for their rocket engines. Next up on the agenda is the exploration of a hybrid manufacturing method that combines 3D printing with post-production computer-numerical control (CNC) machining.
Dr. Frank Liou from the Missouri University of Science and Technology is in charge of heading up two exploratory projects for NASA – projects he hopes will result in stronger 3D printing materials. Dr. Liou received approximately $660,000 from NASA to develop computer models which demonstrate how different layered materials bond with each other as they are deposited. The eventual goal is to produce an AM part comprised of two metals (steel and copper for example) and then use CNC machining to smooth out the rough edges of the part. "In many aerospace or biomedical applications, you cannot afford metal fatigue," Liou said. "It is important to understand how well a deposited metal bonds to the surface."
Dr. Liou was also awarded a $750,000 from NASA to explore the creation of new printing materials not typically found in nature. NASA hopes the materials he pioneers will be stronger than those already in use, allowing them to produce even more 3D printed parts able to withstand the force of launch.
Researchers from MIT University are also working to create stronger 3D printed materials, but instead of trying to create completely new substances they have discovered a 3D printed lattice-like pattern that can increase the strength of objects.