rapidIn May, I’ll be attending my first-ever 3D printing conference and exhibition. RAPID 2016 will be taking place in Orlando from May 16-19, and I must say that I’m getting pretty excited about it. Billed as “the most important event of the year for anyone involved in 3D manufacturing,” RAPID will feature exhibitions from some of the biggest names in the industry, workshops on hot topics such as medical 3D printing and metals, and events like a fashion show, an innovation presentation, and several hands-on activities.

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Orion is prepared for testing at NASA Glenn’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, OH. [Image: NASA]

One of the things I’m particularly excited about seeing is the large-scale 3D printed replica of NASA’s Orion crew module, which will be printed and assembled onsite at RAPID. Orion, which was built to take humans farther into deep space than ever before – ultimately to Mars – has been years in the making, and 3D printing has played a major role in its design and manufacture. It’s only natural, therefore, for a 3D printed replica to be featured so predominantly. Last week, RAPID producer SME teamed up with Lockheed Martin, FARO Technologies, Inc., Direct Dimensions, Inc., Met-L-Flo, Inc., Florida Institute of Technology and Cincinnati Inc. to take the first-ever 3D scan of Orion from a model on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. 

“Additive manufacturing and 3D printing technologies are widely used to produce aerospace and other high-performance products,” said Carl Dekker, president of Met-L-Flo. “It is exciting that we are using 3D scanning and additive manufacturing to reproduce 3D models of the Orion—a spacecraft which may carry these technologies to other planets.”

FARO-3Dscan_Orion

The production of the Orion replicas has been a true team effort. 3D imaging company FARO scanned the Kennedy Center model using a laser scanner (with help from Florida Tech students); 3D solutions provider Direct Dimensions will convert the scan into a file that will then be printed by manufacturer Met-L-Flo. About 150 small-scale replicas will be printed, displayed and given away at RAPID, and Cincinnati Inc. will print the large-scale replica in several pieces, using their Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) technology. The large replica will be printed and assembled on the RAPID showroom floor.

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Orion model at the Kennedy Center

“We have really enjoyed partnering with SME on this exciting project,” said Alyse Cohen, Education Events & Competitions, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. “Being among the first people to even see the pressure capsule and being able to host the first-ever 3D scan of the spacecraft is an important part in NASA’s journey to Mars.”

Personally, I’m looking forward to catching a glimpse at a little bit of history as the Orion replica is 3D printed and assembled at RAPID. Not being involved in the aerospace industry myself, this may be the closest I’ll get to the spacecraft that will ultimately bring humans to Mars. Even though it’s just a replica, the thought of seeing it up close still gives me a little bit of a chill, particularly because I’ve been so closely following and covering the progress of Project Orion and its revolutionary uses of 3D technology. I can’t help feeling invested in the mission, and so it will be an honor to be present at RAPID’s tribute. I promise to take a lot of pictures. Discuss in the 3D Printed Orion Replica forum over at 3DPB.com.

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