SpaceIL is among five teams vying for Google Inc.'s $30m in prize money to get a spacecraft to the Moon by the end of March. One of the startup’s suppliers, Zurich-based RUAG Space, advised turning to 3-D printing to manufacture the legs of its unmanned lunar lander. With financial stakes high and a tight deadline, SpaceIL engineers were at first deeply skeptical, according to RUAG executive Franck Mouriaux. They finally acquiesced after a lot of convincing.
“Space is very conservative,” Mouriaux said this month at the first conference for the industry to be held in Munich, a city that has emerged as a global hub for development of the process also known as additive manufacturing. “We need to convince people that this technology is real.”
The executive’s pitch highlights the hurdles faced by proponents of industrial 3-D printing. They say deep-seated reluctance to try the production method is holding back wider acceptance of the technology on factory floors. While the market is forecast to quadruple within six years to more than $26bn, according to a 2017 study by consultant Wohlers Associates, it’s still mostly confined to small projects and customized businesses rather than mass manufacturing.
“There’s still a lot of work to do to make sure we can make additive manufacturing work,” said Alexander Susanek, head of BMW AG’s Plant 0, a German site where the carmaker develops prototypes. Already, the company is working on using additive manufacturing to reduce vehicle weight.
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