In March, the first ever space-based commercial additive manufacturing facility was installed on the International Space Station (ISS) after a rocket launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The zero-gravity 3D printer was developed by Lowe’s disruptive innovation hub, Lowe’s Innovation Labs, and Made in Space, an aerospace company.
The 3D printer reached a major milestone in June when it printed its first commercial tool, a Kobalt-branded wrench optimized for space with a hook and a clip that astronauts can use. Previously, the astronauts had to use available items like duct tape, paper and toothbrushes for critical repairs. Now, they will be able to create customized tools and produce parts they need on demand. Approximately 30 percent of the parts on the ISS could be replaced and constructed by a 3D printer.
“This is a monumental moment for commercial space,” said Made In Space CEO Andrew Rush. “For the first time, useful objects can be manufactured in space, rather than having them launched on a rocket, which can be time consuming and expensive.”
Customers – a lot closer to home – were already using Lowe’s 3D scanning and printing services. Lowe’s introduced the in-store and online services in April 2015 at an Orchard Supply Hardware store in Mountain View, California. And last month, Lowe’s introduced 3D scanning and printing at its Chelsea store in New York City.
Previously, the astronauts had to use available items like duct tape, paper and toothbrushes for critical repairs.
“Like customers on Earth, astronauts often need specific tools to complete a task and at times that tool is needed urgently,” said Kyle Nel, Lowe’s Innovation Labs executive director. “Getting 3D printing to work in the conditions of outer space means the technology has to be seamless. The 3D printer on the space station will help astronauts and researchers accomplish their projects, and it gives us an opportunity to learn more about 3D printing that can be applied here on Earth and, ultimately, at Lowe’s.”