Optomec—a Mexico-based provider of additive manufacturing (AM) systems for electronic and metal parts—has been awarded a NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract for further development of an adaptive laser sintering system (ALSS).
The SBIR program funds the research, development and demonstration of new technologies that fulfill NASA needs and have significant potential for commercialization.
Optomec will work on the contract in collaboration with the Harding University, in Arkasnas, USA. Together, they intend to make it possible for the ALSS to:
These objectives are to be achieved by improving Optomec's laser sintering technology so that it also performs the function of fully automated curing. The Optomec-Harding team will seek to enhance the localized laser sintering concept by developing an ALSS with in-situ automated adjustment of laser power and processing time.
The success of this endeavor is expected to prove of vital importance to NASA’s in-space, on-demand manufacturing capabilities, particularly in terms of tackling the unique challenges of long-duration, human spaceflight.
The ALSS will allow astronauts to print conformal electronics and sensors onto flexible substrates of various geometrical complexities and then fully cure them using aerosol jet technology, all while in space.
‘After the successful design, test and implementation of the ALSS, the science and technology of laser sintering will be better understood for controllable adaptive operations,’ said Mike Renn, chief technology officer (CTO) at Optomec. ‘The ALSS can be a key solution to NASA’s challenge of in-space, on-demand manufacturing capabilities to support the unique challenges of long-duration human spaceflight, which requires an automated adaptive in-line quality control system along with the associated manufacturing process.’
Edmond Wilson, PhD, professor of chemistry at Harding University, added: ‘Harding University is excited to help develop a robust ALSS with Optomec. Successful development of laser assisted drying and sintering of 3D printed electronics will greatly reduce the production time for 3D printed electronics devices and substantially reduce the need for human intervention.’