Instead of using traditional 3D manufacturing, NASA has developed an electron beam fabrication system capable of creating any object. And hey, if it uses electron beams that means it's awesome, no matter what.
The new method, called Electron Beam Freeform Fabrication (EBF3), uses the electron beam to melt raw material inside a vacuum. The beam can create any mechanical part you want for a small fraction of the cost of previous methods:
Normally an aircraft builder might start with a 6,000-pound block of titanium and machine it down to a 300-pound part, leaving 5,700 pounds of material that needs to be recycled and using several thousand gallons of cutting fluid used in the process.
With EBF3 you can build up the same part using only 350 pounds of titanium and machine away just 50 pounds to get the part into its final configuration. And the EBF3 process uses much less electricity to create the same part.
NASA says that this method will not only help aircraft manufacturers on Earth, but also astronauts, who may one day use it to make replacing parts during missions in remote bases. [NASA]