3D Printing for Space Station Freezer Interior

For a freezer to be used in orbit, growing the interior structure in one piece eliminates joining and brackets to maximize the space efficiency of this space-borne appliance.


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A 3D printing material known for its resistance to heat is being used in an application of continuous –80°C cold on the International Space Station. Fused deposition modeling (FDM) with Ultem 9085 material replaced conventional manufacturing with PEEK in the production of the liner for the “Polar” freezer transporting scientific samples into space.

The University of Alabama Birmingham Center for Biophysical Sciences & Engineering created the freezer. The challenge facing the team working on it was to make the freezer more space-efficient compared to previous designs. Machining flat pieces of PEEK and joining them created sharp corners that fit poorly in the rounded interior of the freezer unit. Thermoforming the liner in PEEK to match the curves necessitated the use of brackets and joining features, which also compromised space-efficiency.

When the team turned to 3D printing, mechanical engineer Daniel Sealy says the group was intially still thinking about it like conventional processes, expecting to have to grow several pieces and connect them together. However, Stratasys Direct Manufacturing was able to apply a large-platform FDM machine to build the freezer’s entire liner assembly in one piece. Freezers using the liner arrived at the International Space Station earlier this year.

Read a more detailed article from Stratasys Direct Manufacturing here.

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