Altran develops mini 3D printer for Int. space station

20 November 2014

Innovation & high tech engineering consulting firm Altran has delivered a portable 3D printer to be used at the International Space Station (ISS) to test 3D printing in space. The printer that will produce plastic parts that will thereafter be compared to otherwise identical parts developed on-the-ground, will be part of the Futura space mission that takes off on 23 November 2014.

In recent years, the market for 3D printing has taken off and is seen by many as the future. The market that has grown strongly is expected to double in the coming years from €2.2 billion in 2013 to €4.5 billion in 2018 as a result of the increased use of the method in the aerospace, medical technology and automotive industries. Advantages of 3D printing include the possibility of customising every product, more efficient design processes, and simpler production processes.

The benefits of 3D are well known for the manufacturing and engineering industries, but the use of this technique could also be very beneficial for the space industry, as Reinhard Schlitt, Head of OHB’s Engineering Services, explains: “There is big potential all along the value chain, to save cost and mass.” According to Wolfgang Veith, Head of ESA’s Product Assurance & Safety Department, advantages of 3D printing include a 40–90% decrease in materials compared to standard ‘subtractive’ manufacturing, far-reduced lead times, less complex assemblies and interfaces, and greater environmental friendliness.

Altran delivers 3D space printer for ESA

Before the method of 3D printing can be used successfully in space, the method needs to be tested in the space environment. In order to do this, consulting firm Altran* has developed a portable 3D printer that will be part of the Futura mission** of ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti at the International Space Station (ISS).

POP3D Portable On-Board Printer
“The POP3D Portable On-Board Printer is a small 3D printer that requires very limited power and crew involvement to operate,” explains Luca Enrietti of Altran. The printer is a cube with 25 cm sides and prints with biodegradable and harmless plastic using a heat-based process. The printer takes about half an hour to produce a single plastic part, these parts will eventually be returned to Earth for detailed testing and compared to an otherwise identical part that is printed on the ground. “To move 3D printing from prototype research to something else we need robust, reliable and repeatable products, whose design margins can be fully verified,” comments Veith.

The printer that is funded by Italy’s ASI space agency is designed and developed in Italy. In the next year, ESA will take the lead in working with all the main European players to map out common development plans for 3D printing for space use.

The video hereunder provides an example of what can be done with a 3D printer in space:

* Altran is regularly involved with space innovations, as just last year the firm launched the so-called ‘Lunar CubeSat’ satellite, a tiny satellite that currently finds itself in an earth orbit and in the coming three years will gather data and test several systems that will be used for the so-called ‘lunar mission’ in the future.

** Cristoforetti will take off on 23 November 2014 and is expected to orbit in the first half year of 2015.


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Two thirds of UK employees not empowered enough to innovate

18 March 2019

A culture of equality can drive innovation at work, but only a third of UK employees feel empowered to innovate at present. This demonstrates a significant disconnect between workers and their bosses in the UK, with 76% of business leaders also claiming they empower employees to be innovative.

Despite innovation increasingly being seen as integral to the survival of businesses, innovation remains relatively difficult to achieve. A lagging disconnect between management and staff remains the driving force behind this. One study by PA Consulting previously confirmed that while 66% of companies believe they will not survive without innovation, only 24% said they had the skills needed for that, and only half thought they had the right leadership in place to change that in time.

In order to find a way around this problem, global consultancy Accenture has completed its own study into innovation, polling around 700 bosses and workers across the UK to do so. The key finding of the research is that companies with a culture of equality can see an individual’s willingness and ability to innovate improved by seven times that of the least equitable workplace cultures. At the same time, an innovation mindset is almost twice as high in the most-equal companies as in typical ones.

91% of employees want to innovate but just 34% in typical United Kingdom companies feel empowered to

What remains clear, however, is that most companies are failing to adequately create an equal culture, where staff of all ranks feel comfortable contributing new ideas. 91% of employees want to innovate but just 34% in typical UK companies feel empowered to. That is higher in the most equal companies, where 75% of staff feel confident making suggestions, compared to just 5% of the least equal, and 34% of typical companies. Since those equal companies are comparatively fewer, when averaged out, only a third of UK staff feel they are empowered to innovate.

That figure stands in stark contrast to the perceptions of UK executives, however.  76% of business leaders in Britain believe that they do indeed regularly empower their employees to innovate. As a result, it seems that leaders mistakenly believe that some circumstances encourage innovation more than they actually do. For instance, they overestimate financial rewards and underestimate purpose.

The opportunity which is presented by addressing this divorce is enormous. Accenture calculates that global gross domestic product would increase by up to £6 trillion over 10 years if the innovation mindset in all countries were raised by 10%.Top 10 workplace culture factors - by strength of impact on innovation mindsetAccording to Accenture, the best way to impact positively on a company’s innovation mindset is through the provision of relevant training – associated with a 10.5% uplift to staff’s confidence innovating. Allowing the freedom for employees to be creative followed, contributing an 8.1% boost, while ensuring that training times are flexible and the firm allows a healthy work-life balance both see a more than 7% improvement. Similarly, remote working being available and being common practice will buoy creativity by 6.9% – further demonstrating the importance of flexible working to improve innovation culture at a firm.

Commenting on the report, Rebecca Tully, executive sponsor for Human Capital and Diversity for Accenture in the UK and Ireland, said, “Our research reveals that a workplace culture of equality is an overlooked driver of innovation within companies. By understanding what motivates their employees and fostering an environment where people feel empowered, business leaders have the opportunity to unleash the innovation required to compete effectively in an era of disruption.”

The research came as part of a global survey by Accenture, which queried more than 18,000 professionals in 27 countries and 150 C-suite executives in eight countries. The overall research determined that an empowering environment is by far the most important of the three culture-of-equality categories in increasing an innovation mindset, which consists of six elements: purpose, autonomy, resources, inspiration, collaboration and experimentation. The more empowering the workplace environment, the higher the innovation mindset score.