3D Printing & Imaging Science

Electron Beam Free-Form Fabrication (EBF3) is a rapid prototyping technology developed by Karen Taminger of NASA’s Langley Research Center. Dr. Taminger is prone to market EBF3 by analogy to Star Trek style “replicator” technology, which is nothing but shameless hype. Still, the basic idea is an interesting twist on extrusion-based 3D printing technologies (although there’s not really any “extrusion” going on), and is under development with an eye towards space-based fabrication. Working in outer space would eliminate the system’s major ground-based shortcoming, which is the requirement for maintaining a vacuum or inert atmosphere to prevent oxidation of the weld.

12 thoughts on “Layer-additive “welding” 3D fabrication

  1. But somebody must.

    Welding machines are heavy and use stout power supplies. Also, welding wire is just as dense as any other metal. You’ve still got to lug it into orbit. Also, I don’t think you’d get a usable part out of EBF3 without further machine work, the resolution of weld beads just isn’t that good, even robot welds.

    Is there more to this? She’s obviously got some funding. Half the video was name dropping.

    Also, shielding gas just isn’t that big a deal.

  2. the sugar extruders seen previously on Make seem to have better resolution than this electron beam welding machine. That “bowl” or whatever it was that the computer welded to the turntable was just awful. Plus, how do you embed sensors in molten metal as it’s being irradiated with an electron beam?

  3. Rep-rap and such are awesome, but metal is more useful. It’s true that the resolution is worse than milling, but you can make structures out of this that are impossible to make by casting.

    Also, Lockheed Martin (I think, there’s an article somewhere) was very interested in this here on earth. Apparently some of the jet engine fans require milling a several ton block down to a few hundred pounds of useful part. Leading to a lot of machine time and costs in reprocessing shavings and replacing bits. This fabrication tech would allow them to make a part from nothing, then go back with a mill to precisely hone the edges.

  4. Looks like they’ve got a long way to go compared to the other deposition technologies. I mean, honestly, I’ve done this by hand with a simple MIG machine with better results than what they’re showing in the video.

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and makezine.com. My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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