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Racing to print the hottest gadget


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Racing to print the hottest gadget

Drumming my fingers waiting for Prime TV to start screening the latest series of Top Gear, I've had more time than usual to read about new technology.

Some manufacturers are getting excited about 3D printing with laser-melted metal powder.

Back in May Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the USA got a photo of their 3D printed titanium hand into Scientific American. Good skills for Oak Ridge's PR folk. But it was a bit of a yawn. Most folks will be happy with hands made with more conventional technologies, which will be cheaper than bespoke 3D printed models. A prosthetic hand doesn't have to perfectly match what was there before. They'll be made in standard sizes, like shoes, and they'll retail for a few hundred bucks or so.

In late June Emirates Team NZ modelled a 3D printed yachting knife from Auckland's Victory Knives. I've been a yachtie long enough to appreciate the value of a decent knife. Every now and then, someone drowns because they can't disentangle themselves from ropes holding them under water. Victory claim their rope-slasher can cut high-tech rope in one go. That's a tall order for any knife. Good skills. They get another point for including a shackle key in the blade. But that's cancelled out by the wussy-looking grip. If I my stainless-steel hunting knife goes over the side, I'll probably replace it with a conventional titanium diving knife, at about half the cost of the knives used by Team NZ.

Rocket injectorLast week US aerospace company Aerojet Rocketdyne upstaged them all, with a NASA press release talking up the successful test firing of a 3D printed rocket injector. NASA reckon the 3D printed part will cost seventy percent less than a part made the old way. They reckon 3D printing cuts turnaround time from twelve months, to four months.

Now that's exciting! Space travel has been idling in the slow lane for way too long. It's critical to the long-term sustainability of human civilisation, so it's great to see advanced computer technology helping drive down costs.

Still, it'll be a while before humans set foot on Mars. In the meantime, I wonder what Clarkson and his mates would do with a powdered metal 3D printer?

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