NASA Supports American Manufacturing

During a visit to NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, I had the opportunity to see where NASA engineers were working on Electron Beam Freeform Fabrication, or EBF3. This innovation in fabrication is a kind of “additive manufacturing” machine that uses an electron beam gun, a dual wire feed and computer controls to manufacture metallic structures for building parts or tools in hours, rather than days or weeks.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because we’re seeing a lot about 3D printing in the news these days. President Obama specifically mentioned it in his State of the Union address as one innovative technology that will help us advance the future of manufacturing.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden is in Huntsville, Alabama, today at the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center to visit NASA’s National Center for Advanced Manufacturing Rapid Prototyping Facility. MSFC is using a process known as selective laser melting to create complex parts for the J-2X and RS-25 rocket engines without welding. You can read more about Charlie’s visit here:

Other NASA centers also are working on 3D printing technology. NASA’s Ames Research Center is using 3D printers to enhance small satellite development. NASA’s Glenn Research Center is using additive manufacturing techniques on the RL-10 rocket engine injector. And NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is working on at ways lunar, Martian or asteroid regolith might be used to provide the raw material needed for 3D printing during deep space missions.

NASA is working with Made in Space, a California company, to demonstrate for the first time 3D printing on board the International Space Station. These tests could prove the technology needed to allow astronauts on future deep space missions to “print” the tools they need and, once used, recycle the tools back into their printers to make their next needed item. Future explorers of Mars might send printers and robots ahead of them to manufacturer their construction tools or even the building blocks needed to build their habitats on the surface of the Red planet before they arrive. The promise of additive manufacturing for space travel is profound, with applications in the near future right back on Earth.

Additive manufacturing is just one innovative process being research and tested as part of the work being done through the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI). Following the President Obama call for the NNMI early last year, NASA partnered to create the first-ever National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Youngstown, Ohio.

The National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute is comprised of a broad coalition of more than 80 companies, nine research universities, six community colleges, and 18 not-for-profit institutions. The institute’s focus is to accelerate additive manufacturing technologies to the U.S. manufacturing sector and increase domestic manufacturing. It fosters a highly collaborative infrastructure for the open exchange of additive manufacturing information and research and facilitates the development, evaluation, and deployment of efficient and flexible additive manufacturing technologies. Perhaps most importantly, it educates students and trains workers in additive manufacturing technologies to create an adaptive, leading American workforce.

Innovation in American manufacturing is critical to our success in space. To grow our space program – and our new technology economy – we must continue working to push the boundaries of what is possible. In fact, a new study shows that in FY 2012, NASA spent $5 billion in top manufacturing industries in the United States. From fabricated metal product manufacturing to computer and electronic product manufacturing, these investments are playing a vital role in our work.

Read more about how NASA is working with American companies to build the future in science, aeronautics and space exploration.

To learn more about President Obama’s plan to make America a magnet for jobs, visit here: