Meanwhile, U.S. space program NASA is experimenting with ways of printing rocket parts, and has manufactured and tested 75 percent of the parts needed to build a 3D printed rocket engine. The turbo pumps, injectors and valves have been successfully tested together, suggesting it would be possible to build a 3D engine for landers, in-space propulsion, or the upper stages of the rocket engine. NASA has also manufactured 3D-printed objects on the International Space Station (see box).
General Electric (GE) has also made some big commitments to 3D printing. The industrial giant recently opened The Center For Additive Technology Advancement (CATA), producing 3D-printed parts such as fuel nozzles for jet engines. GE is investing $40 million in the facility, which will develop industrial applications for 3D printing across its businesses.
BMW Group has integrated 10,000 3D-printed parts into production of the Rolls-Royce Phantom. The complex geometry of some of the parts required lent itself to 3D printing, and they could be manufactured significantly faster than with traditional methods without any loss of quality. BMW is now planning to roll out 3D printing technology across its production range.
Meanwhile, Dubai’s Museum of the Future project has unveiled what it calls the world’s first 3D printed office building. A 3D printer was used to create the building layer by layer, using cement. It took 17 days to print the 250 square meter building at a cost of some $140,000. The printer used to make the building – including all interior furnishings and detailing – is 120 feet (36 meters) long, 40 feet (12 meters) wide and 20 feet (6 meters) high.
3D printing also has huge potential to help developing nations provide basic supplies to people living in remote areas. According to the DHL report, startup re:3D is donating a “Gigabot” to some of these communities to make clothing and other products on a day-to-day basis. Another firm, Field Ready, is collaborating with World Vision to establish an innovation lab in Nepal to produce 3D-printed supplies for relief camps – reducing aid agencies’ logistics costs by 40-50 percent.