Look inside the machine for additive manufacturing, a kind of 3d printer

BAM, Clausthal University of Technology and the DLR Institute of Composite Structures and Adaptive Systems in Braunschweig are testing 3D printing in zero gravity. This time, for the first time, the researchers are experimenting with metallic powders.

Source: BAM

BAM wants to manufacture tools for the first time under zero gravity conditions using 3D printing. Together with the Clausthal University of Technology (CUT) and the DLR Institute of Composite Structures and Adaptive Systems in Braunschweig, BAM is testing its innovative additive manufacturing process during the 31st parabolic flight campaign of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) from 6th to 8th March. The goal of the experiments is to show that astronauts can manufacture tools or spare parts when needed, even on a space mission.

"Additive manufacturing methods are the future of sustainable production," said BAM president Prof. Ulrich Panne. "Especially in the aerospace industry, where every kilo counts, enormous costs can be saved if only a printer and powder instead of a complete tool box and components have to be taken on board."

In the current experiment, metallic powders are used for the first time under zero gravity conditions. These powders can be fused into a finished, ready-to-use component by a laser beam. The challenge, however, is to handle this powder, which is potentially flammable or explosive. The research group has therefore developed a new method that enables metallic powders to be processed under a protective gas atmosphere.

The consortium of BAM, CUT and DLR Braunschweig has developed a new technology for applying the powder, a delicate undertaking in weightlessness. The scientists use a continuous gas flow, which is sucked through the powder layers and thus draws in the particles so stabilising the powder bed without gravity.

"We were able to successfully test our process and produce the first small ceramic components under zero gravity conditions during our first flight of the 30th DLR parabolic flight campaign in August 2017," explained Prof. Jens Günster, project manager and head of BAM’s Ceramic Processing and Biomaterials division. "Now we want to go one step further and show the potential of our process for additive manufacturing of metallic components during space missions."

The processes used in the project "Powder-based additive manufacturing in zero gravity" have already been internationally patented. They are based on two patent families that were jointly registered by BAM and CUT within Germany and by BAM alone outside Germany.

Prof. Günster, who is also professor of advanced ceramics at CUT, heads a team that includes Dr. Andrea Zocca, Jörg Lüchtenborg and Gunther Mohr from BAM, Dr. Thomas Mühler from CUT, and Marc Sparenberg from the DLR Institute of Composite Structures and Adaptive Systems in Braunschweig.

Further information about the project and the parabolic flight experiments of BAM, CUT and DLR can be found here. BAM will report live on the progress of the experiments under the hashtag #BAMResearch, #BAMzeroG and #DLRparabelflug. Follow us on Twitter.

BAM promotes safety in technology and chemistry.
As a BMWi departmental research institute, BAM performs research, testing and offers advisory support to protect people, the environment and material goods. Its activity in the fields of materials science, materials engineering and chemistry is focussed on the technical safety of products and processes.

BAM’s research is directed towards substances, materials, building elements, components and facilities as well as natural and technical systems important for the national economy and relevant to society. It also tests and assesses their safe handling and operation. BAM develops and validates analysis procedures and assessment methods, models and necessary standards and provides science-based services for the German industry in a European and international framework.

Safety creates markets.
BAM sets and represents high standards for safety in technology and chemistry for Germany and its global markets to further develop the successful German quality culture "Made in Germany“.

Locally based, globally valued – this is the Clausthal University of Technology (CUT). Teaching and research are carried out in the fields of energy and raw materials, natural sciences and materials sciences, economics, mathematics, computer science, mechanical engineering and process engineering. We aim to connect natural science, engineering and economics within application-oriented research. The university is organised in five innovative centres: the Lower Saxony Energy Research Centre, the Clausthal Centre for Materials Sciences and the Simulation Science Centre, the Clausthal Research Centre for Environmental Technologies and the Celle Drilling Simulator.

The German Aerospace Center (DLR) is the national aeronautics and space research centre of the Federal Republic of Germany. Its extensive research and development work in aeronautics, space, energy, transport, security and digitalisation is integrated into national and international cooperative ventures. In addition to its own research, as Germany’s space agency, DLR has been given responsibility by the federal government for the planning and implementation of the German space programme. DLR is also the umbrella organisation for the nation’s largest project management agency.

DLR has approximately 8000 employees at 20 locations in Germany: Cologne (headquarters), Augsburg, Berlin, Bonn, Braunschweig, Bremen, Bremerhaven, Dresden, Goettingen, Hamburg, Jena, Juelich, Lampoldshausen, Neustrelitz, Oberpfaffenhofen, Oldenburg, Stade, Stuttgart, Trauen, and Weilheim. DLR also has offices in Brussels, Paris, Tokyo and Washington D.C.

Further Information