Monday, July 24, 2006

Printing aircraft

Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works has manufactured the prototype of its new high altitude unmanned system using parts manufactured through a “3D printing” process known as 3D rapid prototyping. This process has been used in industry for some time now to manufacture basic prototypes, but now the strength of the parts printed in this way is strong enough to be used as working components.

New Scientist has an article about this revolutionary approach to building aircraft, noting that the process allows reduced time to design and build aircraft, and reduced costs.

Printing 3D objects could potentially be of huge importance in the future, as cost reductions, reduction in development times of increasingly complex technology and increases in efficiency and reduction in resource consumption all become essential to continued progress.

Printing objects seems like a natural progression in manufacturing technology. Perhaps one day we will print everything we require with the ultimate in manufacturing technology; molecular manufacturing. Who wouldn’t like to have their own desktop nanotech printer? It’s a step away from Star Trek replicators.

We may be a little while off from having molecular manufacturing, but manufacturing functional parts through 3D printers is certainly a step in the right direction.

It will be interesting to see the effect that this technology will have on the auto industry once it filters down to that level. Wide scale increases in efficiency could be just what the doctor ordered (though personally I would like to see the manufactures of oversized automobiles go bankrupt...).