NASA has been busy developing advanced manufacturing technologies at its research and development labs for decades. Recently, they announced 2019 advanced manufacturing technologies that have real viability in the public sector.
2019 Advanced Manufacturing Technologies Revealed By NASA
While their advanced manufacturing technologies are initially developed for use in aerospace applications, many are applicable to an array of commercial manufacturing industries. Here are 6 exciting 2019 advanced manufacturing technologies form NASA that manufacturers may be able to apply to their operations in the near future.
Additive manufacturing, more colloquially known as 3D printing, has developed quickly in recent years. an array of materials and mechanisms to improve the output and efficiency of additive manufacturing technologies have emerged, with few solutions to how defects can be detected and mitigated. NASA addressed this void by developing its own additive manufacturing inspection system. utilizing infrared cameras and sensing equipment, engineers can monitor the build process in real-time, addressing defects before materials are wasted and make corrections on-the-fly.
- A reduction in false-positive readings
- Flexibility when incorporating into existing systems
- Reduced time, energy, and material wasted in nonconforming parts leading to significant cost-savings
- Leverages infrared and visual cameras for thermal and spatial accuracy
- Aerospace – complex injectors, internal coolant passage components, heat exchangers
- Automotive – exhaust system components
- Medical – orthopaedic implants
As commercial rocket and aerospace vessel manufacturing ramps up a renewed interest in space flight and exploration, NASA’s need for faster lead and design times necessitated a modular approach to assembly and welding. These new fixtures developed at Marshall make managing metal components during assembly much easier on teams. Fixtures are adjustable, facilitating use on rocket sections of varying heights and diameters. The result is rapid rocket assembly with applications in other aerospace, maritime, and other vessel manufacturing industries.
- Modular fixtures can be reused and repurposed for multiple projects of various sizes.
- Tooling design and configuration time is reduced by half.
- Project costs are reduced by as much as an order of magnitude.
- Modular fixtures can enable the economical adoption of friction stir welding.
- Modular fixtures enable large-scale rapid prototype development in a wide range of industries.
- Maritime – Shipbuilding and assembly
- Aerospace – Airframe assembly, commercial space launch vehicle assembly
- Mining, Energy, Transportation/Logistics – Pressure vessel assembly
Researchers at NASA’s Langley Research Center have long been developing the 3D printing process known as EBF3, short for an electron-beam (e-beam) free-form fabrication technology. The process utilizes several mechanisms to manufacture metallic structures used in parts tooling. The process involves an electron beam gun, a dual wire feed, and computer controls that shrink the fabrication process from days or weeks, to hours. The innovation has drawn significant attention because until recently, working with printed metals was an exceedingly difficult task. This technology solves the problem of even material distribution during the printing process, satisfying NASA’s need for rapid prototyping of parts in space. The innovation has far-reaching utility in commercial industries, such as industrial welding scenarios and the fabrication of structures and components of virtually any scale.
- Stable, optimized, and uniform wire heating during the deposition process
- Continuous and predictable deposition pattern
- Simplifies deposition of complex geometries
- Optimizes management of macro-level microstructural characteristics of deposited metal
- improves the efficiency of power and feedstock used
- Improves automated operation
- Automotive, Aerospace, and other industrial and commercial manufacturing: Welding of metal structures
- Automotive, Aerospace and Defense, Field-service, MRO: Free-form fabrication of complex metal components in remote locations
- Near-net shape manufacturing and rapid prototyping
- From Automotive and Aerospace to Sporting Goods and Medical Devices: Metal fabrication
Just what it sounds like, this handheld laser torch helps to repair hard-to-reach engine nozzles on NASA’s space shuttles. Designed for welding and brazing metals, this variable power torch brings many unique advantages to the repair bench. for example, its power can be adjusted in real-time, at-will. Additionally, it’s unique and ergonomic design provides for enhanced precision, portability, maneuverability, and safety for the user. The tool has many potential applications in manufacturing processes for consumer items like eyeglasses frames to jewelry to more complicated structures, like medical hardware.
- Enhanced accuracy using variable lenses to adjust depending on circumstantial welding needs.
- Increased portability and maneuverability when to brazing in small or hard-to-reach places.
- Improved user safety with the addition of sensors and emergency switches.
- Decreased heat affected zone by applied heat to a very localized working area, preventing damage to the welding surface.
- Opportunities include various welding applications where real-time laser variation may be needed due to the spatial/accuracy constraints of traditional welding methods:
- Aerospace engine repair
- Medical hardware manufacturing
- Plastic mold and die restoration
- Jewelry manufacturing and repair
- Eyeglass frame welding
Researchers at NASA’s Glenn Research Center have developed high-speed image processing technology to monitor airflow of an aircraft engine’s intake. It’s an important tool in developing technologies that make aircraft faster and more efficient. This highly-customizable camera is designed to quickly identify precise location data. Machine vision and sensing technologies are used in just about every vertical of assembly line manufacturing. This versatile edge technology has the ability to further drive efficiencies in these industries while providing greater visibility into part placement and position monitoring.
- Quickly captures and processes linear images at a rate of over 900 fps
- Highly customizable in response to digital signal transitions from low to high (positive edges) or high to low (negative edges) and permits threshold sensitivity variations
- Compact dimensions result in a reduced size and system complexity when compared to conventional edge detection systems
- Reliable design that is both simple and affordable, requiring very few parts
- Efficient power usage when compared to a typical smart camera
- Aerospace – Supersonic jets
- General Manufacturing (assembly lines, part placement, and position monitoring) – Machine vision for quality control and OEE
- Lane line tracking for autonomous motor vehicle control
- Bar code scanners
- Digital photography
Researchers at NASA’s Marshall research center are developing an improved joining technology called thermal stir welding. It improves on fusion welding and friction stir welding technologies to provide superior joining methods for dissimilar materials as well as improve welding rates for existing industrial applications. Thermal Stir Welding is a technology that can easily be adapted to almost any industry that uses other forms of welding. This includes automotive parts, shipbuilding, fuel tanks, and railway manufacturing.
- Unique advantages of this technology over fusion welding or friction stir welding include the following:
- Totally independent heating and stirring functions
- More degrees of freedom for greater process control and optimization
- Easy assembly-line use
- Improved surface finish results
- High travel rates
- Separate heating function for easier welding of alloys with higher melting temperatures, such as steel and inconel alloys
- Storage tank or cylinder manufacturing
- Railway cars
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