Cutting-edge technology eliminates cutting edges

Ways to create finished parts or tools without cutting edges are moving closer to reality, thanks to the work of the rapid prototyping research team at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. The effort is intended to help overcome the need to deliver specialized tools or replacement parts from Earth to astronauts in space, which delays science projects and adds costs.

By Staff October 1, 2006

Ways to create finished parts or tools without cutting edges are moving closer to reality, thanks to the work of the rapid prototyping research team at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. The effort is intended to help overcome the need to deliver specialized tools or replacement parts from Earth to astronauts in space, which delays science projects and adds costs.

The rapid prototyping laboratory has seven, state-of-the-art machines; each can build-without using any kind of mold-intricate, detailed pieces of hardware using metallic dust, liquid resin, and a special kind of plastic that looks like fishing line. Curtis Manning, laboratory engineer, says the process starts with a computer-aided design (CAD) drawing that helps in programming computers and machines; and the machine builds solid, 3-D objects with incredible detail, even hollow piping or a threaded hole for bolts. The machines can build small models, full-sized machine parts, or ready-to-work tools. Engineers and designers can realize concepts in 3-D. Such parts, traditionally prototypes, may be used as finished parts as technologies improve, eliminating use of metal-cutting tools for some manufacturing processes. www.nasa.gov