3D Printing Damascus-like Steel

Recreating Damascus steel remains a holy grail of materials science. The exact process and alloys used are long ago lost to time. At best, modern steelworking methods are able to produce a rough visual simulacra of sorts that many still consider to be pretty cool looking. Taking a more serious bent at materials science than your average knifemaker, a group of scientists at the Max Planck institute have been working to create a material with similar properties through 3D printing.

The technology used is based on the laser sintering of metal powders. In this case, the powder consists of a mixture of iron, nickel and titanium. The team found that by varying the exact settings of the laser sintering process on a layer-by-layer basis, they could create different microstructures throughout a single part. This allows the creation of parts that are ductile, while remaining hard enough to be sharpened – a property which is useful in edged weapons like swords.

While the process is nothing like that used by smiths in Damascus working with Wootz steel, the general idea of a metal material with varying properties throughout remains the same. For those eager to get into old-school metalwork, consider our articles on blacksmithing. For those interested in materials research, head to a good university. Or, better yet – do both!

[Thanks to Itay for the tip, via New Atlas]

Getting To Space Is Even Harder During A Pandemic

At this point, most of us are painfully aware of the restrictions that COVID-19 social distancing protocols have put on our daily lives. Anyone who can is working from home, major events are canceled, non-essential businesses are closed, and travel is either strongly discouraged or prohibited outright. In particularly hard hit areas, life and commerce has nearly ground to a halt with no clear end date in sight.

Naturally, there are far reaching consequences for this shutdown beyond what’s happening on the individual level. Large scale projects are also being slowed or halted entirely, as there’s only so much you can do remotely. That’s especially true when the assembly of hardware is concerned, which has put some industries in a particularly tight spot. One sector that’s really feeling the strain is aerospace. Around the world, space agencies are finding that their best laid plans are suddenly falling apart in the face of COVID-19.

In some cases it’s a minor annoyance, requiring nothing more than some tweaks to procedures. But when the movements of the planets are concerned, a delay of weeks or months changes everything. While things are still changing too rapidly to make an exhaustive list, we already know of a few missions that are being impacted in these uncertain times.

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Finishing FDM Prints With SLS Resin

[Thomas Sanladerer] has a filament-based 3D printer and a resin one. Can the two types of raw material combine to make something better? [Thomas] did some experiments using some magnets to suspend the parts and a hot air soldering gun to heat things up.

The trick turns out to be cutting the resin with alcohol. Of course, you also need to use a UV light for curing.

The parts looked pretty good, although he did get different results depending on a few factors. To see how it would work on a practical part, he took a very large printed alien egg. The problem is, the egg won’t fit in the curing station. A few minutes with a heat sink, a drill press, and an LED module was all it took to build a handheld UV curing light.

The good news is you don’t need a resin printer to take advantage of the process — just the resin. He also points out that if you had parts which needed to maintain their dimensions because they mate with something else, you could easily mask the part to keep the resin away from those areas.

If this video (and the results it shows) has you interested, then you’ll love the in-depth account that [Donald Papp] wrote up last year about his own attempts to smooth 3D printed parts with UV resin.

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Quadruped Robot Disguises Itself As A Ball

When the Skynet baseball bot swarms attack, we’ll be throwing [Carl Bugeja] some dirty looks for getting them started. He’s been working on 4B, a little quadruped robot that can transform itself into a sphere almost perfectly.

Before [Carl] was distracted by the wonders of PCB actuators more than a year ago, he started working on this little guy. He finally found some time to get it moving on its own, and the preliminary results look promising to say the least. Inside the 6 cm sphere is a total of 12 servos, 3 for each leg. All of the mechanical parts were 3D printed in nylon on an SLS machine, and the custom PCB has a BLE microcontroller module, an IMU and IR proximity sensors onboard. Everything is open source with all the files available on the Hackaday.io project page.

The microcontroller runs a full inverse kinematic model, so only the desired tip and base coordinate for each leg is input and the servo angles are automatically calculated. Ultimately [Carl] aims to have the robot both walking and rolling controllably. So far he’s achieved some degree of success in both, but it still needs some work (see the videos below. We’re eager to see what the future holds for this delightfully creepy bot.

Walking robots are always an interesting challenge. For more of our future overlords, check out this adorable little cat and this truly terrifying strandbeest.

Metal 3D Printing — A Dose Of Reality

We have no doubt that hundreds of times a day a hacker is watching a 3D printer spew hot plastic and fantasizes about being able to print directly using metal. While metal printers are more common than ever, they are still out of reach for most people printing as a hobby. But as Mr. Spock once observed: “…you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.” However, metal 3D printing has its own unique set of challenges. Texas A&M recently produced a short video explaining some of the design issues that you’ll encounter trying to make practical metal prints on an SLS (Selective Laser Melting) printer. You can see the video below.

The description says “It is more challenging to ‘metal 3D print’ a part than most people think. We’ve noticed the same even with plastic printers as friends will expect us to print the most outlandish things for them. What we like about this video is it helps to set expectations of the current state of the art so we’re not expecting far more than today’s metal printers can produce.

Among the features covered in the video are overhangs, which require supports. After removal, the surface is about like 80 grit sandpaper unless you perform further finishing. Just like plastic parts, warping and curling of large areas is a problem with metal. If you’ve ever been frustrated removing plastic support material, try having to ceramic grind metal supports off. They also use an EDM machine to cut especially tough supports, but it causes a lot of effort since it is likely to run through EDM wires and clog the filters.

We looked at recent advances in metal printing last year. We’ve seen homebrew machines that were little more than welders under computer control and we’ve seen plans by big players like HP to create metal prints, but at a steep price. Still, you can’t stop the march of 3D printing progress.

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Could Orion Ride Falcon Heavy To The Moon?

Things aren’t looking good for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS). Occasionally referred to as the “Senate Launch System”, or even less graciously, the “Rocket to Nowhere”, the super heavy-lift booster has long been a bone of contention for those in the industry. Designed as an evolution of core Space Shuttle technology, the SLS promised to reuse existing infrastructure to deliver higher payload capacities and lower operating costs than its infamous winged predecessor. But in the face of increased competition from commercial launch providers and proposed budget cuts targeting future upgrades and expansions of the core booster, the significantly over budget and behind schedule program is in a very precarious position.

Which is not to say the SLS doesn’t look impressive, at least on paper. In its initial configuration it would easily take the title as the world’s most powerful rocket, capable of lifting nearly 105 tons into low Earth orbit (LEO), compared to 70 tons for SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy. It would still fall short of the mighty Saturn V’s 155 tons to LEO, but the proposed “Block 2” upgrades would increase SLS payload capability to within striking distance of the iconic Apollo-era booster at 145 tons. Since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011, NASA has been adamant that the might of SLS was the only way the agency could accomplish bigger and more ambitious missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

Or at least, they were. On March 13th, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine testified to Congress that in an effort to avoid further delays, the agency is exploring the possibility of sending their Orion spacecraft to the Moon with a commercial launcher. The statement came as a shock to many in the aerospace community, as it would seem to call into question the future of the entire SLS program. If commercial rockets can do the job of SLS, at least in some cases, why does the agency need it?

NASA is currently preparing a report which investigates what physical and logistical modifications would need to be made to missions originally slated to fly on SLS; a document which is sure to be scrutinized by SLS supporters and critics alike. Until the report is released, we can speculate about what this hypothetical flight to the Moon might look like.

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Proposed NASA Budget Signals Changes To Space Launch System

The White House’s proposed budget for 2020 is out, and with it comes cuts to NASA. The most important item of note in the proposed budget is a delay of the Space Launch System, the SLS, a super-heavy lifting launch vehicle designed for single use. The proposed delay would defer work on the enhanced version of the SLS, the Block 1B with the Exploration Upper Stage.

The current plans for the Space Launch System include a flight using NASA’s Orion spacecraft in June 2020 for a flight around the moon. This uncrewed flight, Exploration Mission 1, or EM-1, would use the SLS Block 1 Crew rocket. A later flight, EM-2, would fly a crewed Orion capsule around the moon in 2022. A third proposed flight in 2023 would send the Europa Clipper to Jupiter. The proposed 2020 budget puts these flights in jeopardy.

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