By on May 19th, 2018 in printer

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 The MELT space-rated 3D printer
The MELT space-rated 3D printer

Many months ago we reported that BEEVERYCREATIVE was developing a 3D printer for use in outer space.

Now that project takes a big step forward. 

The “MELT” project, a consortium sponsored by the European Space Agency (ESA) and several European manufacturers, including Portugal-based BEEVERYCREATIVE, has reached an important milestone: they’ve delivered the final printer to ESA. The intent is to operate the device on the International Space Station in the near future. 

MELT stands for “Manufacturing of Experimental Layer Technology”, and refers to the 3D printing process used in the device. You might be surprised to learn that the MELT 3D printer involves a filament extrusion process very similar, if not identical, to those used commonly on Earth-based 3D printers. 

 Detail of the MELT space-rated 3D printer for ESA
Detail of the MELT space-rated 3D printer for ESA

This process must operate in microgravity conditions – essentially weightless. 

But that’s not a problem: in fact it’s possible on the ground to prove this by attempting to 3D print on angles and even upside down. Here we see a LulzBot TAZ 3D printing on its side:

 A LulzBot TAZ 6 3D printing while sideways
A LulzBot TAZ 6 3D printing while sideways

And a Mass Portal machine also 3D printing sideways. 

 Another 3D printer operating on its side, from Mass Portal
Another 3D printer operating on its side, from Mass Portal

This works because each layers material chemically bonds with adjacent layers, regardless of gravity. Similarly the print is held down on the print surface through chemical adhesion, although sometimes this is helped by heat. 

This is the approach BEEVERYCREATIVE has taken on this machine. You’ll note its well-enclosed design, which no doubt is to capture any noxious emissions that may affect space station crew members. 

BEEVERYCREATIVE and the rest of the consortium members have been developing the MELT device for over two years and now as the project shifts into a new mode, I’m wondering how this experience can affect BEEVERYCREATIVE going forward.

The company emerged in 2013 by providing a very attractive and inexpensive desktop machine that was well-received, but years later would suffer the same fate as other machines targeted at hobbyists: a limited market. Many producers of similar equipment from that time have switched their focus to alternate markets where they can thrive. 

It seems to me that the expertise gained by BEEVERYCREATIVE during their ESA project could be quite valuable if they thought to enter a new market with this technology. I suspect it may be possible to adapt their learnings into a powerful professional desktop 3D printing system that might be take their company to a new base of potential purchasers. 

But we don’t yet know how they will proceed. 


By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!

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