You may think Lowe’s is just a hardware store, but with its Innovation Lab, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The first commercial 3D printer was installed on the International Space Station (ISS) in 2016 thanks to a partnership between Lowe’s Innovation Lab and Made in Space, a space-based manufacturing company.
The 3D printer is used to make Lowe’s-branded tools and parts for astronauts to do everything from fix the Station to brush their teeth. The printer can easily print utensils like wrenches, buckles, and even flexible mesh material.
Down on earth, Lowe’s Innovation Lab is creating 3D models for such devices and testing whether they can handle extreme space environments before any real-life application.
“Lowe’s has a mission of helping people love where they live, and the astronauts happen to live in outer space,” Kyle Nol, executive director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs, says in the below video. “3D printing is an obvious choice for space. You have a very small space in which to work with so you can only bring a certain amount of material in there. It’s also hard to know what to need and when you’re going to need it.”
Michael Snyder, chief engineer at Made in Space, adds that after arranging the printer file, it is essentially emailed to the Space Station for the astronauts to print on board.
“For the first time ever, humanity can manufacture things off the face of the planet, “Andrew Rush, president of Made in Space, emphasizes.
Lowe’s also had an exact replica of the ISS 3D printer in a store location in the San Francisco Bay area that gave customers the experience of what it would be like inside the ISS, and also allowed them to print customizable things for their homes. That replica is no longer in the store.
The company hopes to one day have a store on the moon.