ASTM’s Center of Excellence to partner with NASA on “common interest” 3D printing projects 

ASTM International’s Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence (AM CoE) has signed a co-operative agreement with NASA to partner on “activities of common interest.”

The three-year contract between the organizations, worth a reported $750,000, will see NASA identify potential 3D printing projects for the AM CoE to execute. NASA was a founding member of the AM CoE, and the deal serves to build on their existing partnership, while providing NASA with a more “defined role” in each research area. 

“We are excited for the opportunity to strengthen and expand our relationship with NASA,” said Mohsen Seifi, ASTM International’s Director of Global AM Programs. “This partnership agreement will create a collaborative environment to advance additive manufacturing projects key to NASA’s future successes.”

ASTM and NASA's agreement will see the organizations work more closely together on projects of "common interest." Photo via AMTS International.
ASTM and NASA’s agreement will see the organizations work more closely together on projects of “common interest.” Photo via ASTM International.

Global standards and the Center of Excellence

ASTM International is a global standards developer that publishes voluntary technical certifications for a variety of materials, products, systems, and services. The organization has consistently advanced the wider adoption of 3D printing technologies, and established its F42 committee in 2009 with this goal in mind. 

Composed of more than 700 technical experts, the global group meets twice a year to revise and publish new global standards in the Annual Book of ASTM Standards. In order to effectively conduct strategic R&D into qualifying additive manufacturing processes, the ASTM later established its AM CoE in 2018

The CoE represents a partnership between ASTM, and a range of experts from industry, government, and academic groups, which aims to accelerate the broader uptake of 3D printing. At present, the Center’s partners include engineering firm EWI, research groups from NIAR, the MTC and Auburn University, and state level organizations such as NASA and NAMIC

In recent years, the group has made several investments to help members of the CoE program to progress in promising areas of research, starting with an initial $300,000 in September 2018. ASTM’s F42 members were called upon to propose their top-priority R&D gaps for a second round of funding in May 2019, before a further eight projects went on to receive support last month. 

Following the ASTM’s latest deal with NASA, its partners will lend their expertise to more aerospace-oriented projects in future, and it could be indicative of the areas in which further funding will be issued. 

ASTM's Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence aims to accelerate additive manufacturing standardization. Photo via ASTM International.
ASTM’s Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence aims to accelerate additive manufacturing standardization. Photo via ASTM International.

NASA and ASTM’s international agreement

Although the agreement will eventually see NASA gain greater authority to define which projects the AM CoE will be working on, it won’t result in an immediate change of focus. The AM CoE is currently establishing qualification procedures for Laser Powder Bed Fusion (LPBF) 3D printing processes, and will continue to treat the program as a priority.

ASTM considers the lack of global standards in LPBF to be an impediment to its wider adoption, and aims to develop a method of qualifying both machines and 3D printed parts. Following the conclusion of its LPBF project, the AM CoE is expected to work on unspecified future research, with the aim of expanding the use of 3D printing within NASA’s operations. 

“We have been supportive of the AM CoE from the very beginning,” said Doug Wells, Senior Engineer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. “We know this continued partnership will yield quantifiable benefits to support NASA’s continued investment in AM technologies.” 

As part of the deal, Richard Huff, formerly of GE Additive and Caterpillar Inc, has also been hired as ASTM’s AM Business Development Manager. In his new role, Huff will be responsible for managing and growing the AM CoE’s existing partnerships, as well as expanding on the membership of its Industry Consortia. 

Huff’s appointment comes amid a broader restructuring of the Consortia, with the group re-allocating its resources to focus on the creation of 3D printing material databases. Additionally, the group is aiming to work more closely with ASTM’s F42 committee, as a means of effectively turning common practices into standards which aid the broader industry. 

NASA’s increasing additive adoption 

NASA has consistently utilized 3D printing to create robust parts, capable of withstanding the harsh environments of space, and its deal with ASTM could serve to broaden these applications even further. 

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory recently revealed that its Perseverance rover has been fitted with eleven 3D printed parts. The space-faring vehicle, which is due to land on Mars in February 2021, features the components within its “MOXIE” and “PIXL” devices. 

Construction company ICON, meanwhile, has gained a NASA contract to design an off-world construction system. As part of the program codenamed ‘Project Olympus,’ the Texas-based firm is attempting to develop a means of 3D printing lunar regolith into scalable structures. 

Elsewhere, researchers from the University of North Dakota (UND) have been awarded a NASA grant to develop a 3D printed spacesuit. The three-year R&D project will examine the viability of the team’s ‘NDX-3’ additive garment using motion capturing technologies. 

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Featured image shows a rocket being prepared for launch at an unspecified space port. Photo via ASTM International.