ITER, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor involves work at many locations. One of them is the US Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where they’ve discovered some interesting uses for 3D printing.
No, they’re not 3D printing fusion reactors (although we really hope that will become a reality in the distant future). Instead they’re using inexpensive desktop 3D printers to test the design of parts for use in the developmental fusion reactor.
Some people like to use their desktop 3D printers to develop prototypes for projects, but the same can be done on a massive, international project such as ITER. They’ve been using these small 3D printers to test part designs for reactor components. Among the benefits they’ve found:
- They can “see” what a part looks like and discuss it’s properties more easily
- Prototype costs have dropped significantly
- Detection and correction of one design error can easily pay the entire cost of a desktop 3D printer
- Large parts can be printed at “toy scale” to simulate their properties
- Complex assemblies can be tested to see if they really fit together as conceived
Everyone can achieve the same benefits, given an inexpensive 3D printer and a design project.