The other day a colleague of mine came into the office talking about a Doctor he saw on a morning TV show singing the praises of creating 3d printed medical devices and products that could in future be made in space (or possibly on Mars) which got us once again on a rant.
While 3d printing is great here on Earth, here are our top 3 reasons as to why we think packing a 3d printer for the first Mars colonization trip should go much lower on the list (well below food, technology to make oxygen, water, proper medical equipment and other basic necessities!)
#1 Running Out of Materials: unless the plan is to use natural resources and materials native to Mars (such as sand), all the materials (plastics) have to be shipped from earth on the initial trip with the 3d printer and will eventually be depleted. The materials are not regenerative or re-usable. It’s comparable to sending a desktop inkjet printer… what value does the printer have when they run out of their ink supply?
#2 Machine Maintenance: When the printer breaks down requiring replacement components, someone will not only have to be extremely well versed in repairs but will also need at their disposal replacement parts. Even if they had a second working printer, not all replacement components could be built on it (in fact, we’d say very few)
#3 Quality: 3d printing currently makes basic objects. With the technology proposed (extruding method that we at 3D Prototype Design no longer use), the parts would be a much lower quality to traditional manufacturing and would be made only out of the materials and resources available on Mars. For example, how well do you think these 3d printed plastic tweezers would work at taking out a splinter?