On Earth, we generally don't have any trouble if we're missing a tool or one breaks. We contact a tool dealer we trust or go to the nearest home improvement store. But what if this happens in space - on the ISS, for instance? The closest store is then at least around 400 kilometers away, and although Amazon has the appropriate delivery infrastructure in-house, they won't send their rockets for a wrench. So what can be done? One possible solution comes from Prof. Jens Günster, head of Ceramic Process Technology and Biomaterials at the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM) in Berlin and professor of Advanced Ceramics at Clausthal University of Technology. He and his team are conducting experiments on additive manufacturing in microgravity conditions. They aim to show that astronauts on space missions can use 3D printing to make tools and replacement parts themselves where needed.
The precise name of the project, which is being presented by BAM at HANNOVER MESSE 2018, is "Powder-based additive manufacturing in zero gravity." The technology is designed to enable the production of urgently needed replacement parts or tools by applying layers of a free-flowing powder using 3D printing. The challenge is to stabilize the powder bed in the absence of gravity. To make this work, Günster has developed an innovative method that can be used to process the powder in a vacuum gas atmosphere.