Sheffield scientist showcases work to NASA

IT may be a long way from the sunny pastures of San Pasadena, California but an engineer from Sheffield's Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) has showcased technology to some of NASA's top scientists.

The American space agency invited AMRC development engineer and additive manufacturing (AM) specialist Mark Cocking to an exclusive two-day workshop.

Based at NASA-JPL, the laboratory that manages many of NASA’s robotic missions exploring Earth, the solar system and universe, Mr Cocking was asked to showcase the AMRC’s THREAD technology – a 3D printing process

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The THREAD process, which is patent-pending internationally, allows components to be manufactured with in-built, continuous connectivity and additional functionality passing through the X, Y and Z axes.

The workshop eclipsed Mark’s expectations and resulted in the organiser and lead of the workshop, senior engineer in spacecraft design at NASA-JPL Michael Schein, calling the THREAD technology “extremely impressive”.

Additive manufacturing, sometimes referred to as 3D printing, allows products to be built in layers rather than by traditional methods such as boring or drilling.

With AM revolutionising traditional manufacturing processes, the aerospace sector is increasingly investing in new AM processes and technologies that create valuable efficiencies and reductions in costs and material wastage.

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THREAD was the only technology developed outside the USA to be featured at the exclusive two-day workshop.

Mr Cocking showcased THREAD technology and led a focused discussion group on embedded functionalities in AM for his peers from across NASA and those attending the workshop.

He also demonstrated a use-case for a component designed using the THREAD process which could be used on a NASA space-rover style vehicle; showcasing how the process could be used to design components, optimised not only for load, but for the inclusion of embedded functionality.

NASA had searched the world for new and innovative embedded functionalities being developed for AM processes.

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Mr Cocking said: “The fact that THREAD was invited to be featured at the workshop at NASA – one of the world best known aerospace research organisations – just shows the global reach of research that takes place at the AMRC.

“NASA has potential use-cases for upcoming projects for which they could utilise THREAD for embedding functionality into AM components.

“Other AM specialists attending the workshop also said THREAD would be the perfect process to use for components such as directional antennae and communication networks, which is a great vote of confidence for the process.

“THREAD has potential applications across many sectors such as energy, medical and aerospace; where components would benefit from integrated power, data, and fluid transfer, such as for the design of spaceflight assemblies.”

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Following the workshop in California, senior engineer in spacecraft design Mr Schein wrote to Mark in support of THREAD: “I would like to express my interest in the further development of the THREAD process for embedding fibres in 3D printed materials.

“I cannot recall coming across a similar or competing process that promises to provide such capabilities, especially if it can be adapted to metal printing.”

Mr Schein also advised Mark that proving out this kind of technology for spaceflight applications would open up a huge design space for system integration and miniaturisation that simply did not exist previously.

NASA was founded in 1958 and lists the Apollo moon landings among its achievements.