Though not quite as versatile as the Enterprise's replicator, EBF3 technology has myriad commercial applications aside from its scientific implications. All one needs to fabricate a part for, say, a commercial airliner or a medical device is a 3-D rendering of the part and a feedstock that is compatible with the electron beam (that is, something the beam can liquify). The drawing must be highly in-depth, however, breaking the object into layers that the EBF3 machine can understand and accommodate.
But once that drawing is made once, the airline manufacturer or the device maker can conjure that part on demand and on-site, saving money and time. Furthermore, because layering together a part from molten metal requires less waste than machining a part from a solid block, EBF3 is exponentially more environmentally friendly than conventional fabrication methods. Some aircraft builders machine 300-pound parts from 6,000-pound blocks of titanium; EBF3 could produce the same part from just 350 pounds, saving 5,650 pounds of titanium that would normally have to be recycled.
EFB3 can also feed two different feedstocks into the machine at once, opening up more opportunities for innovation. For instance, part makers could embed a strand of fiberoptic cable inside a part, allowing the placement of sensors in places where it was previously impossible.
But let's not forget the sci-fi implications as well. Future crews manning a lunar base could use EBF3 to create parts and tools as needed (rather than ordering them from Earth a quarter million miles away). As for feedstocks, they could scrap their landing crafts, but they might also be able to mine them from the moon's soil, bringing sustainable space dwelling that much closer to reality.
The EBF3 equipment tested on the ground is quite bulky, but a scaled down version was created and subsequently flown to near-weightlessness on NASA's Reduced Gravity Aircraft. The next step should be a trip to the ISS, though the EBF3 is still waiting for a spot on a mission manifest. While it may not produce the crew's afternoon tea, it could someday supply a critical part at a crucial moment. That's more than we can say for the replicator.
What kind of tensile strength do you get from such an item? Does the process happen at such a rate that the metal unifies, or is it still-layered in a uniform damascus-style manner (which would lack damascus steel strength by having straight lines rather than interlocking curves)?
I ask this not because it matters to the ISS (up there anything is better than nothing), but for more industrial uses, particularly with high stress tools.
Also, how specific is the feedstock? Is is something I could cruicible and mold at home (for my own recycling)?
Pricetag? Production rate? We all love Star Trek fluff, but we also like details.
"closer to creating something from nothing"
Really? You consider energy and metal to be nothing? What planet are you from?
since that article in popsci some time ago about 3-D printers.....iv just been fantasizing about this kind of thing.....im a very down to earth no nonsense practical person....and i see this as as potentialy a world-shaking breakthrough....like the internet....and toilet paper
Would the stability of the structure be effected by the way the electrons are styled? Like 3DTOPO mentioned.... I also cannot see the something out of nothing link. Moulten Metal, (feedstock), in Space is that viable?
I agree. Instead of saying "...creating something from nothing", it should be "...creating something from SCRATCH". For a moment, I thought scientists had harnessed the quantum phenomenon of virtual pair-production to produce materials. I guess it was a good come-on line.
Interesting article on the whole, but somehow it's a bit off kilter. I especially object to the following :
"Some aircraft builders machine 300-pound parts from 6,000-pound blocks of titanium; EBF3 could produce the same part from just 350 pounds, saving 5,650 pounds of titanium that would normally have to be recycled."
Having pursued a career in mechanical engineering (ended up in manufacturing systems, but that's another story altogether) I know a thing or two about working with metals. First of all, if you end up machining 80% off a block that means usually that you are making a custom fit piece, or that your production process is screwed up. In the first scenario, the EBF3 is certainly handy, in the second you should fire your design engineer(s) and get someone who understands casting. If you have a good cast, then the machining of it is more or less finishing.
As for "recycling" the metal. Bah. Just put the chips and shavings into a kiln and out it comes fresh as anything, ready to be used again. You make this sound like some kind of an awfully complicated process, but it really isn't. Metals are unique in that way, that it's really hard to waste them even if you try.
Sure metals can be recycled but there is something to be said for saving the energy it would take to heat 5650 lbs of titanium to 3000F+ to melt it down.
The statement in the article about titanium probably refers to a huge government contract for something like the A-10 Thunderbolt 2, a combat aircraft that has a very high survivability rate in combat, almost 100%. While I don't doubt the statement re thousands of lbs titanium for a 300 lb part, I just have to remind that on the first Warthog, they used less titanium and still had the same high survivability. To say that this is an efficient process, maybe it should be compared to something that is, in fact, efficient. This seems to me to be an important manufacturing advance, one that should easily be able to stand on its own merits, not misdirection and padded numbers.
Details about this technology can be found online (search: “EBF3” and “NASA”). NASA is seeking licensees for this technology so that it could be used for non-NASA applications. For more information see Fuentek’s blog post on the EBF3.
I'd say the tolerance on that part is pretty terrible. It's definitely not good enough for aerospace application.
-(I see a www.thereifixedit-INSPACE.com coming on!)-
That being said: if this fabrication process requires further machining operations, how would they be done in space?
Interesting. I guess it is for those who are interested in this technology. Electron beams that is used for metal fabrication. I guess for me, I would like to know if it actually improves the process and the manufacturing process. Is it cost effective comparing t o traditional methods/ Does it reduce the process time?