Work has finally begun on the lunar base and 3D Printing Managers have a key role in its success. Imagine it’s three decades since the SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket launch reignited a popular interest in the potential of space travel. While energy and material efficiencies have improved manufacturing exponentially, resources on Earth continue to deplete. With the advent of cheaper space travel it now makes sense to start mining asteroids and searching for alternative supplies for our future planet.

But with Earth-into-space launches still requiring so much precious energy, it makes sense for intrepid space miners to use the moon as a base. This means that buildings, launch sites, and refueling stations will need to be erected. Luckily, it turns out that moon dust is great for building walls, saving us the task of transporting components in rockets. And as artificial intelligence (AI) rovers can ‘print’ building formations — in the same way that 3D printers on Earth prototype new products — we don’t need to transport hordes of human builders to work in the poor lunar conditions.

3D printing refers to a process by which digital 3D design data is used to build up a component in layers by depositing material. And while it has increasingly sophisticated applications, in this scenario, there are obstacles to overcome: how do you program a rover to print a building; how do you best mix the moon dust into a workable cement; how do you manage the software and the hardware that’s required — along with the project team surrounding the builds — for the first time ever?

An expert in adapting 3D printing technology

3D Printing Managers are adept at tackling unprecedented projects and taking on huge engineering challenges, coming up with real-life solutions that are applicable both on — and off — Earth.

3D Printing Managers are keen to see their work impact the real-world. They look beyond the lab and are always up for a challenge. This is paired with an ability to run operations with ambition and rigor.

To 3D print a moon base — or any brand-new piece of kit for use in large enterprise — you have to take 3D printing beyond the experimental prototyping stage and make it a viable, safe, and powerful building technique.

There’s managing the hardware: building the dynamic robotics and the rig onto which they are fixed in order to turn liquid material into perfectly designed, solid product. Then there’s the software to look after: taking an online drawing and ensuring that it translates perfectly into the real world.

To 3D print a moon base you have to take 3D printing beyond the experimental prototyping stage and make it a viable, safe, and powerful building technique

There’s also thinking about error and change management — how to right a wrong when the print doesn’t quite work, how to ensure the virtual building will stand up when it becomes physical, and how to make sure the whole 3D printing rig has the power and tenacity to not fail mid-build.

The 3D Printing Manager has to be an expert across multiple fields, and able to work effectively with a diverse set of people. They need to fully understand the problem, the team working on it, the technology and the client, and bring them all together to run a project on time, on budget and on brief — even where that brief seems an impossibility, at first.

3D printing can be used in many industries, but in order for it to offer an exponentially better solution than those already out there, the right people need to be adopting and translating the technology in the right kind of ways.

If we’re to reimagine our way to a better world, using less resources and smarter design, we need the 3D Printing Managers to help us prototype and build that future.

Words: Gemma Milne; Caroline Christie
 Illustration: Matthew Hollister