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3D printing on the International Space Station

14 November 2014

Europe’s very first 3D printer in space is scheduled for installation aboard the ISS next year.

Designed and built in Italy, it will be put to the test as part of ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti’s Futura mission, and is set to reach orbit in the first half of next year. Samantha herself will be launched on her six-month ISS assignment on 23 November.

The POP3D portable printer will require very limited power and crew involvement to operate. It is essentially a cube with 25cm sides and prints with biodegradable and harmless plastic using a heat-based process.

POP3D is designed to ensure its operation does not affect the crew environment, and will take about half an hour to produce a single plastic part. This will eventually be despatched back to Earth for detailed testing, including comparison with an otherwise identical part printed on the ground.

Additive manufacturing is seen as a vital technology for future space missions, not just in terms of building lightweight structures for space vehicles back on Earth, but also as a means of providing the spare parts that future pioneering colonies on the Moon or Mars will need, in order to reduce their dependence on deliveries from Earth.

Engineers should get more ‘arty’
Engineers should embrace the Arts, often key to creativity and an important component of innovation, something that is crucial in creating new products and boosting our future economic competitiveness. So says Sir John O'Reilly who will give the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s Mountbatten Memorial Lecture next Thursday (November 20).

In a lecture entitled: Full STEAM ahead for growth: knowledge, innovation and industrial strategy, he will argue that it is vitally important to recognise the role of the Arts, notably design and aesthetics in creativity and critical thinking - "hugely relevant" says Sir John, when it comes to conceiving people-centred solutions or innovations.

"We often - rightly - hear of the importance of STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths] but we need to ensure we don’t miss a trick by not giving due weight also to the Arts," says Sir John. “Engineering and technology is an increasingly diverse and creative domain - hence 'STEAM'. When you bring in the Arts you include some important people-centric aspects that can be crucial to success: in practical use and in the market.”

And there are some outstanding examples where art and design have been embraced to good effect. One such is household appliance designer and manufacturer, Dyson - a good example of a UK-based firm that has embraced the innovation that STEAM proposes, according to Sir John.

Clever acoustics avoid TV volume disputes
A University of Southampton researcher has developed a highly directional loudspeaker array that is able to emit a louder sound volume to a person with hearing loss watching television along with friends and family with normal hearing.

According to researcher, Marcos Simón, it’s estimated that disputes over TV volume affect one in ten households, and these are often caused by some family members having age-related hearing loss.

“Because only about 20 per cent of such people wear hearing aids, the only way to resolve this problem is to improve the level of sound for them without annoying other viewers in the household with normal hearing who don’t want to be subjected to a loud volume,” says Marcos.

Marcos’s loudspeaker design, which comprises eight phase-shift sources in a line, aims to compensate for the hearing loss of a 70-year-old adult, which is of the order of 15dB at 3kHz.

The acoustical radiators send a boosted version of the TV audio towards one location, where a hearing impaired TV listener is present. Other listeners with normal hearing are placed at positions where they do not listen to the amplification provided by the array.

Although line arrays have been studied for many years, the approach previously used to reduce the radiation to the rear of the array – and hence reduce reverberant levels for other listeners – has been to position a second set of loudspeakers at the back of the array to cancel the sound in that direction.

Marcos's array uses individual loudspeaker elements that are specially designed first-order acoustic radiators, or phase shift sources, thus saving cost and improving the robustness of the array to variations in the sensitivity of the elements and in the reproduction environment."

The array has been put to the test and it has been found that, by using the device, it is possible obtain about a 30 percent of speech intelligibility improvement of the hearing impaired listeners, while maintaining a good audio quality in the zone where the listeners with normal hearing are seated.

Marcos won the 2013 Institute of Acoustics Young Person’s Award for Innovation in Acoustical Engineering for his array design.

Les Hunt
Editor


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