This Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer was made using a patented 3D-printing process developed for producing strong and heat-resistant metal and ceramic lattices. Designed using a computer and printed in one go, in less than half an hour, this lightweight comes in at just over 12 grams.
Rudolf’s copper nose was produced using a new additive manufacturing technique. This patent is being developed further for use in space. A 3D metal printer is being developed to generate aluminium, copper and titanium alloy components in microgravity, eventually flying on the International Space Station.
3D printing, formally known as additive manufacturing, can create complex shapes that are impossible to manufacture with traditional casting and machining techniques. Little to no material is wasted and cutting the number of steps in a manufacturing chain offers enormous cost benefits.
This Rudolf is a festive example and test case of 3D printing. The next step is creating ceramic shapes that can withstand extreme temperatures. ESA and its partners have already built ceramic-lattice models which will be revealed in the new year.
ESA is testing these ceramic lattices for satellite thrusters. Coated in platinum, the ceramic acts as a catalyst to burn monopropellant – adding to safety, reliability and improving performance. Other applications being explored include using the technology for heat exchangers, catalytic convertors in cars and heat insulation.
The patents to make Rudolf come from ESA’s New Materials and Energy Unit in collaboration with Nick Adkins, Luke Carter and Hany Hassanin from Birmingham University, UK, and Wayne Voice and David Jarvis at ESA.
The project is part of ELIPS – European Programme for LIfe and Physical Sciences in Space, ESA’s research programme for science and applications in microgravity, helping to improve our life on Earth and enable humankind’s long-term presence in space.
Part of this research was carried out in the AMAZE project – Additive Manufacturing Aiming Towards Zero Waste & Efficient Production of High-Tech Metal Products – and partially funded by the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme under contract FoF.NMP.2012-4.313781.