Over the last few years, 3D printing has become a more common technology. It is now widely available to consumers at a variety of price points and business solutions are starting to catch on as well. Advanced technologies like bioprinting and machines that can print metals have made it even more useful.
Most people think that 3D printing is only for creating small parts and items. However, large-scale 3D printing is quickly becoming popular in a variety of industries.
It has massive implications for the future of humanity—both on Earth and in space.
What is Large-Scale 3D Printing?
Asking someone ten years ago if they could print a rocket or a house would have been insane. Today, those are two real-world applications of the technology.
Large-scale 3D printing is essentially the same as normal printing, but everything is bigger. Companies typically start by creating a custom 3D printer for the parts they intend to make.
A machine designed to build rocket parts is different than one that will print houses. In that sense, large-scale 3D printing is unique since the machine needs to be designed with some aspects of the end product in mind. Even so, most large 3D printers are extremely versatile.
From there, the printer is loaded with some sort of material. This can range from metal alloys to concrete to plastic. The type of material depends on what parts are being manufactured. A house needs to be printed in a material like concrete while rocket parts need to be lightweight metal.
Out of This World
Some of the most interesting uses of large-scale 3D printing are in the spaceflight industry. Several companies and startups are exploring how the technology can make rocket launches cheaper and faster.
Velo3D has been busy supplying 3D printers and parts for SpaceX, the world’s most successful private launch company. The startup focuses on printing parts for the Falcon 9 rocket and other SpaceX launch vehicles.
It has also gained interest from several companies for its custom printers and the accompanying software they run on. Thanks to a $28 million fundraising round in April, Velo3D expects to become profitable as soon as 2022.
Meanwhile, NASA has partnered with a high-tech construction firm called ICON to explore how 3D printing can be used to create a lunar base. The company received $14.5 million to develop a system capable of printing permanent structures both on the moon and on Earth.
Space isn’t the only industry to benefit from large-scale 3D printing. As the homelessness crisis continues to unfold around the world, hundreds of thousands of people lack access to safe shelter.
3D printing could help address that problem. Startups like AI SpaceFactory are working on habitats that are easy and affordable to print. They use materials like concrete and even soil gathered from the new home’s location to manufacture robust structures.
Using a large 3D printer to make a house is both fast and affordable. It could be a fantastic way to jumpstart housing production in areas where reliable access to shelter is needed. Moreover, it could be a lifesaving application in the wake of natural disasters when people need a place to stay.
Instances like these show just how impactful large-scale 3D printing can be. However, they are only the tip of the iceberg. This technology will continue to evolve and be even more helpful in the coming years.