Monthly Archives: December 2014

Our Predictions for 2015

By Lloyd Graff

I’ve spent a lot of time listening to pundits blab their predictions as I’ve been recovering from knee surgery in December.

Today I’m ready to blab my own.

1) 2015 will be a very nice car year, but a terrific truck year in America. Gas prices will probably fluctuate between $2 and $2.50. There are a lot of small businesses that have dilapidated vehicles begging for replacement. The depreciation law makes a $25,000 pickup a no-brainer for a landscaper or plumber driving a beater that poorly represents his or her business. Look for light trucks to be up 25%. Big trucks should also have a solid increase.

2) The homebuilders should have a big year in 2015 – except they won’t. Family formation is sluggish. The Millennials keep postponing marriage and kids. School debt is a huge damper on house buying. The suburbs have lost their charm for couples in their twenties and thirties, and condominiums in the big cities are crazy expensive. Renting makes more sense. High rise apartments will sprout up, but single family homes will continue to suffer. Home prices in the burbs will go down in value.

3) Dark horse candidates will emerge for the Presidency in 2016. Favorites like Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush will start to look way too 1996 to excite primary voters. A fresh face, maybe a business guy from Silicon Valley or a mayor from Pittsburgh who is relatively clean politically and has a compelling biography, will come out of nowhere to capture the public’s imagination.

4) Somebody may die on the field in an NFL game, causing Roger Goodell to quit his job. Network ratings of NFL football then begin to fall, and beer companies will start channeling some ad money to soccer and hockey.

5) It will be a buyer’s market for bar stock. The world wide surplus of steel capacity will push down prices faster than expected. Scrap prices will plummet. It will make sense to buy metal on the spot market, and hedging on raw materials will get more common.

6) Wages will finally start to go up, even for the bottom tier of workers. Even Wal-Mart will be forced to pay higher wages because the quality of low-end workers will be so poor it will cost them enormously in lost sales because their workers turn off customers.

May you all enjoy a happy healthy 2015 and share your comments with TMW throughout the year.

Question 1: Will many states increase the gas tax this coming year?

Question 2: What are you hoping for in 2015?

Share this post

Connecticut Colt gun factory to be national park

Courtesy of Washington Post.

HARTFORD, Conn. — As a decade-long push to make a national park out of Samuel Colt’s 19th-century gun factory won approval, elected officials hailed the project as a way to boost one of Hartford’s poorest neighborhoods and honor the revolver as a marvel of manufacturing. Notably absent from the celebrating was Colt’s Manufacturing Co., as it and other gun makers say a strict gun control law has left them feeling unwelcome in the state.

The factory, distinguished by its blue onion-shaped dome, opened in 1855 and is perhaps the best-known symbol of an era when gun companies in the Connecticut River valley helped to pioneer the concept of interchangeable parts and drive the Industrial Revolution.

While New England politics have not been seen as friendly to guns for years, the relationship between gun makers and leaders who championed gun control became bitter after Connecticut adopted one of the country’s toughest gun control laws following the 2012 Newtown elementary school shooting. A gun industry association withdrew its support for the park project, and Colt executives, who closed the factory in West Hartford one day last year so workers could protest the gun legislation, have declined to discuss it.

Read more here.

Share this post

Oil spill

Courtesy of The Economist.

As the oil price plunges, gloom and ill-will, oddly, abound

BE CAREFUL what you wish for. After years of grumbles about a historically high oil price, the cost of crude has tumbled. But cries of woe are outnumbering the shouts of joy. Exporters, oil-company shareholders and industry suppliers are all contemplating a future of oil at $60 a barrel—or below. So too are all the people who lent money to them. Markets are pricing in the pain and pessimism immediately, while seeming to discount the future gains to energy users.

Russia’s currency is at a record low, falling below 60 roubles to the dollar on December 15th. Indonesia’s rupiah is at its weakest for six years. The FTSE 100, a London-based stock market index dominated by extractive-industry shares, had its worst week since August 2011, with a 6.3% fall. European equities across the continent suffered their biggest weekly loss in more than three years. Emerging market stocks are also down to a nine-month low.

Over the weekend Abdallah Salem el-Badri, secretary general of the Organisation of Oil Exporting Countries, (OPEC), a cartel which produces 40% of the world’s oil, said he saw no grounds for production cuts. “The decision has been made. Things will be left as is,” he said. That was the first official comment from OPEC since its meeting in Vienna at the start of this month, at which it decided not to try to curb production in order to support prices.

That will be little comfort to those squeezed by the 50% fall in the price of oil from its peak three years ago. Mr el-Badri says he believes that the drop is excessive. “The fundamentals should not lead to this dramatic reduction [in price],” he said. OPEC was “assessing the situation” to determine the real reasons behind the decrease.

That assessment should not take too long. Increased efficiency, weak economic growth and the use of alternative energy sources are all dampening demand. The International Energy Agency (IEA), an intergovernmental body which represents the industrialised economies that consume oil and gas, has cut its forecast. It believes that demand will grow only by 0.9 million barrels a day (mb/d) in 2015 to 93.3 mb/d.

Weak demand is only a minor factor, though. The biggest cause of the falling price is rising supply from non-OPEC countries, particularly from America. The IEA believes that American supply will raise total non-OPEC production by a record 1.9 mb/d in 2015. In theory, lower oil prices will curb that. Spending on new projects is falling, chilling the prospects for jobs and profits.

But such effects come with a lag. Once wells are drilled, it makes sense to pump them. As the IEA notes “Today’s oil spending cuts will dent supply—just not right now.” The short-term outlook for American shale oil production, known as “light tight oil”, remains unchanged it reckons, so long as the producers do not actually go bust (and perhaps not even then–someone else will buy the well). The only place where oil production is likely to fall immediately, it reckons, is Russia, where the combination of sanctions and a collapsing currency may trim production.

So news that fighting has closed two oil-export terminals in Libya—something that would normally have spooked markets—has cheered them instead. Libya is a small oil producer, with about 900,000 barrels a day (b/d), around half its peacetime production. But the belief that geopolitical risk is not dead has put a little resilience back into prices.

The burning question for those hit by falling prices is what if anything OPEC and other producers are going to do. The answer so far seems to be “not much”. Russia (a non-member), Venezuela and other hard-pressed countries want an emergency meeting of OPEC. But the Saudis and their Gulf allies—the biggest force in the cartel—are not interested. They prefer to keep market share. Only a real commitment from the non-OPEC countries to make production cuts themselves would spur the Saudis to turn off the pumps. There seems little chance of that right now.

In theory, lower prices should boost demand. That is the assumption of research by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which suggests that a 25% drop in oil prices boosts oil demand by around 0.4 mb/d. But the IEA disputes that. It thinks that some of the falling demand is structural, not cyclical. And governments may respond to the falling prices to cut subsidies. China, Indonesia, Kuwait, India, Thailand, Egypt and Malaysia have all taken this step. Kuwait has announced plans to triple diesel and kerosene prices (though not gasoline) in 2015. That will help keep demand weak.

So long as the era of excess supply and declining profits continues, rivets are popping. European refining margins are coming under pressure, because American competitors, stoked by cheap crude oil which cannot be exported, are sending what some call a “diesel tsunami” across the Atlantic. In Britain, thousands of jobs in the offshore oil and gas industry are at risk. Total full-year output for the entire North Sea is expected to decline to 840,000 b/d, its lowest level since 1977.

Hundreds of billions of dollars of investment are needed to extract the remaining reserves. Wood Mackenzie, a consultancy, says 32 potential European oilfield developments that could produce 4.9 billion barrels of oil may be mothballed if prices fall below $60 per barrel. BP, a London-based energy company, has already cut $1 billion from its capital expenditure plans. Other oil majors are following suit.

But such ructions are mild compared with Russia, where Rosneft, the partly state-owned oil giant, has been bailed out with cheap central bank cash to prevent it defaulting on its debts. But at least Russia has the foreign-currency reserves to do this: countries such as Venezuela may not be so lucky. However much oilmen may hope that the price will eventually recover, for now their woes are mounting.

Share this post

War on Terror History

By Noah Graff

Delta Force Tryouts, day after physical selection. Haney in middle of first row.

While the U.S. government has been interrogating the CIA this week for the organization’s own controversial interrogation practices on suspected terrorists, I reflect on how our country’s perspective on terrorism has morphed over the last 13 years since September 11, 2001. The “War on Terror” is a term that many Americans have grown numb to as we encounter it on such a regular basis, whether it be in the real news or watching our favorite primetime shows. But of course, the United States has been officially at war with terrorism for decades, and the evolution of this war has been complicated and fascinating.

I just finished listening to Inside Delta Force by Eric Haney. Haney was an original founding member of Delta Force in 1978, the first U.S. Special Forces unit specifically devoted to international terrorism conflicts. Although today Delta Force isn’t a truly secret unit, as it was when it was first formed, it has managed to stay out of the limelight, aside from the 1980s Chuck Norris movies. The Pentagon refuses to comment publicly on Delta Force’s highly secretive activities, and Delta operators almost always wear street clothes, and have civilian hairstyles and facial hair to remain undercover.

I am wowed by the sophistication of Delta Force verses the traditional military forces that preceded it. In 1977, Colonel Charles Beckwith created Delta Force because he saw a need for an elite Special Forces unit that specialized in fighting international terrorism. He sought to create a unit resembling the British Special Air Service (SAS), in which he had served as an exchange officer in 1962. There had never been a U.S. Special Force like it up until then, but Beckwith convinced the U.S. army of his correct prediction, that terrorism would be huge threat around the world in the not so distant future.

In the first tryouts for Delta Force, only Eric Haney and 11 other men were accepted out of 163 other elite soldiers invited to Fort Bragg from around the world. That 7% acceptance rate was the highest ever for Delta Force tryouts.

The tryout process put the soldiers through the wringer both physically and psychologically. It finally culminated in a 40 mile solo course, which took the soldiers off main paths and roads with minuscule navigation assistance. No soldier was allowed to help a comrade in any of the tryout challenges. The Army has almost always relied upon structured orders and working in teams, but the Delta tryouts are designed to test soldiers’ abilities to work autonomously, without plans set up ahead of time by superior officers. One of the unique characteristics of Delta Force versus other military forces is that the small teams of operators participating in a mission are the ones who plan the mission. This enables Delta Force operators to plan missions in which they believe they can succeed. According to Haney, the Delta Force operator is still the only fighter who can be sent out alone or in small teams in extremely difficult conditions with limited or no guidance. (This version of the book was published in 2005)

In training the Delta Force operators, Colonel Beckwith’s philosophy also broke with Army tradition by utilizing experts from resources outside the Army. For instance, it used CIA field agents to instruct on trade craft (espionage) in hostile territories, the Secret Service for its expertise on sniping, and even consulted incarcerated expert thieves to teach soldiers such techniques as lock-picking and hot-wiring cars.

One of the specialties of Delta Force is hijacked airplane rescues, so its operators consult commercial airlines to study every model of aircraft available. Interestingly, Haney recounted that Delta Airlines was always the most cooperative and helpful airline during his time in Delta Force.

In the book, Haney describes some of his successful missions and disastrous ones, such as the attempted Iran hostage rescue. When Delta Force is not tasked with rescues or espionage, its operators are often used to protect American embassies in the most dangerous locations or to train foreign armies when it suits American interests. Haney did much of his service in the 1980s in hot zones such as Beirut and Latin American countries. In the book, he sometimes questions the motives of some of his missions in Latin America, where Delta’s purpose was to aid despotic regimes to squelch revolutionary guerrillas.

Politics and wars will always be messy. Despite our powerful media, U.S. citizens still don’t know what’s really going on behind the scenes — for better or worse. But at least we can feel confident that we have some of the most talented trained people defending us.

Questions:

Does torture bother you?

Are we winning the War on Terror?

Share this post

Surgically Repaired

By Lloyd Graff

A Stryker brand knee replacement

I’m writing this column one week after a full knee replacement. The surgeon used a Stryker knee. Some of you may have made parts that are now in my right knee. Thank you. The recovery is going ok, I guess. I’m taking the narcotic Oxycontin twice a day, and I am not used to its side effects which make me dopey, mess up my vulnerable vision, and perhaps give me slight hallucinations. The pain is tolerable, but I am annoyed by my struggle to concentrate. Everybody tells me that the recovery gets easier after the first week, and I feel good that I have written this blog. I will keep you informed as I go along with my recovery.

******

My son-in-law Scott lives in Palo Alto, California, working at at Google about 12 miles from his home. He is looking to replace his 13-year-old BMW 330i, which is now too small for a family with three kids and a lot of carpools. He asked me recently what I thought he should buy. I stammered a bit and then mentioned the upscale Toyota Camry XLE because it was the car I was most familiar with.

Scott has toyed with the idea of the Tesla Model S, which we looked at together at the Palo Alto showroom and took for a test drive.

We both loved the ride and coolness, but Scott never went any further on it. I think it’s a value question for Scott. If he keeps the car 10 years, which is his pattern, the car will probably have little value eventually because it will be needing a new battery pack.

So I’m throwing it out to you folks. The family already has a Honda van for the family trips and the school carpools. Scott likes the responsiveness of the BMW and is comfortable with tight steering wheel action. I don’t think a pickup truck is the right choice for the carpool life, but I will leave it open to your suggestions.

******

My Chicago Cubs beat out the San Francisco Giants and Boston Red Sox last night to sign ace pitcher (and cancer surviver) Jon Lester for $155 million over 6 years and a signing bonus of at least $20 million. It is the most expensive signing for a free agent pitcher ever. My question is how valuable over the course of a season is a #1 starter? There are very few true #1 starters in the Majors. Max Scherzer of Detroit, Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw (30.7 million over 7 years), Madison Bumgarner of the Giants, and Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners are the first to come to mind. On paper they do not calculate as fair value for $30 million a year for six or seven years, because you know their production will decrease over the full span of the contract. But evidently, some smart people in baseball think that wins per dollar of investment are the incorrect way to figure an ace’s value. They believe the feeling of invincibility an ace brings to a team lifts the abilities of the other players, so he is worth more than just his numbers. He may also enable a team to recruit other top players.

You could argue that teams without an ace starter normally do not win a pennant or World Series, but consider the 2014 Kansas City Royals model of having average starters but a super bullpen. Maybe this is the new baseball model and decreases the need for an ace. Although many people would say that the Giants prevailed in 2014 because of their invincible #1 starter and World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner.

In today’s new “dead ball” era of fewer home runs, the big money may not go to hitters. The Kansas City versus San Francisco World Series may usher in a new era of both mega rich ace starters and teams stockpiling power arms for super bullpens. The Yankees’ current signing of Andrew Miller as a left-handed bullet out of the bullpen may be an indication of this trend.

What do you baseball fans think? Does it make sense to overpay for a really top starter, considering all the bad things that can happen to a pitcher’s arm over six years?

Questions:

What are your experiences with knee replacements?

Does it make sense to pay a starting pitcher $30 million a year for 6 years?

Share this post

Oil keeps sliding on oversupply fears

Courtesy of BBC.

The price of oil has hit another five-year low as fears of oversupply continue to mount.

Brent crude was down $1.77 at $67.30 a barrel in Monday afternoon trading, having earlier hit $66.77 – its lowest since October 2009.

US crude was down $1.44 at $64.40, after falling as low as $64.14.

Morgan Stanley predicted that Brent would average $70 a barrel in 2015, down $28 from a previous forecast, and be $88 a barrel in 2016.

The investment bank also said that oil prices could fall as low as $43 a barrel next year. Analyst Adam Longson said that markets risked becoming “unbalanced” unless the Opec producers’ cartel decided to intervene.

Saudi Arabia, the cartel’s biggest member, resisted calls at last month’s meeting to cut production despite the slide in prices, which have fallen more than 40% since June.

Kuwait, another Opec member, said that oil prices were likely to remain about $65 a barrel untilthe middle of next year unless Opec cut output.

The further falls in the oil price put more pressure on both the rouble and Russian stock markets, with the currency losing 2.2% against the dollar at 53.66 and down 1.8% against the euro at 65.80 in afternoon trading.

Some analysts believe that Russia will increase interest rates to as much as 12% this week in a bid to prevent a full-blown financial crisis.

Last week, the Russian government warned that the economy would fall into recession next year as the falling oil price and Western sanctions, in response to its role in eastern Ukraine, take their toll.

Russia’s economic development ministry estimates the economy will contract by 0.8% next year after previously estimating growth of 1.2% for 2015.

China slows

Global confidence was also undermined on Monday after European Central Bank governing council member Ewald Nowotny warned that the eurozone economy was experiencing a “massive weakening”, sending the euro lower against the dollar and the pound.

The head of Austria’s central bank is keener than Germany on the idea of the ECB introducing more money printing, or quantitative easing, and using the funds to buy government bonds in a bid to help stimulate flagging European economies.

Markets were also unsettled by official data showing that China’s export growth slowed sharply in November, while imports surprisingly contracted, resulting in a record monthly trade surplus.

Tony Cross, market analyst at Trustnet Direct trading group, said the figures indicated that the world’s second-largest economy was slowing down: “Chinese trade data fell well short of expectations and this has sent traders scurrying for the exits as the new week gets under way.”

Meanwhile, figures showing that the Japanese economy contracted more than initially thought in the three months to 30 September hit the yen, sending the dollar to a seven-year high.

Gold edged up $1.25 to $1,195.25 an ounce in London.

Share this post

Predictably Irrational

By Noah Graff

Pepsi Challenge

I just finished listening to a great book called Predictably Irrational, by the acclaimed professor of behavioral economics, Dan Ariely. As I listened, I kept thinking of the irrational factors we deal with every day in the machine tool business.

Ariely says that standard economics assumes people are rational, thus they can make logical and sensible decisions, and quickly learn from past poor decisions either on their own or with the help of standard market forces.

However, his research has shown that people are much less rational than we assume. He says that people make the same mistakes over and over because of how our brains are wired, so we need to look at economics based on how people actually behave rather than how we think they should behave.

One concept Ariely discusses he calls “anchoring.” This often relates to prices as well as other benchmarks people encounter in business. Anchoring refers to how people’s minds set a standard based on the first figure they hear. For instance, if I’m selling a used machine and the first price I quote a customer is $100,000, that figure will guide the customer to believe that anything higher than that price is too expensive. That’s assuming the customer hasn’t been quoted a different price on that machine previously. If so, he will be anchored to that price instead. For an Acme-Gridley that is 40 years old, it is difficult to objectively assign a value based on market factors, so the experience of receiving a starting price can have a strong impact on the brain. At Graff-Pinkert one of our greatest struggles is figuring out the “right” value to put on a machine. In the end, the right price is when the customer’s irrational brain is in sync with our own irrational ones.

It works the same when quoting a cycle time to a customer. If the first figure we estimate for a customer is 15 seconds, any cycle time significantly higher than that will likely seem to him unacceptable. There may be plenty of logic and calculations which show that the 15 second cycle time first quoted was a ridiculous estimate, but after 15 seconds was mentioned, good luck pleasing the customer with a 25 second cycle time.

Restaurant owners have found that raising the prices of items on a menu can significantly increase revenue. People may want to stay away from the filet mignon that costs $60, so they settle on the prime rib, the second highest price on the menu for $50, which they are made to feel is a better value. If the restaurant owner is clever he could make the second most expensive item the one with the highest profit margin.

Another concept the book covers is how expectations will cause one item to seem superior to another. Ariely conducted an experiment in which for several days he served MIT students cups of coffee from a makeshift cafe. He served the students coffee in plain styrofoam cups and offered condiments like sugar and cream in simple containers sometimes made to look extra shabby by labeling them with felt tipped pens and cutting off their edges. The students then filled out surveys rating their satisfaction with the coffee. Other days the condiments were put out in fancy glass and metal containers on nice trays with silver spoons. When the condiments were served with the better presentation, the students rated the coffee better quality. Upscale presentation made them believe the they were drinking upscale coffee. When you walk into a shop or an office of a customer, does cleanliness and nice presentation give you more confidence in the quality of the products? Do clean machines actually produce more accurate parts? Maybe not, but I’ll admit there is a distinct positive feeling I get when I walk into a shop where we dealers say “you can lick the floor.”

To further study the effects of expectations, Ariely revisited the famous “Pepsi Challenge.” I’m sure you all remember when Pepsi conducted blind taste tests against Coke, from which they claimed their drink was preferred. Coke also conducted their own taste tests from which they claimed their drink was preferred. What is interesting is how the companies differed in their taste test procedures. For Pepsi’s taste test, the participants were supposedly blindfolded. While in Coke’s test, the subjects could see which beverage they were drinking.

Some neuroscientists conducted an experiment in which participants tasted the two soft drinks while using an MRI to test how the drinks stimulated the brain. By the way, it’s pretty difficult to drink while lying in an MRI tube. The scientists had to inject beverages into tubes running into the participants’ mouths. The participants were told before each gulp whether Pepsi, Coke, or an unknown drink was coming. The neuroscientists found that when the name of the drink was told to participants it stimulated the part of the brain known as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), which is associated with strong feelings of emotional connection. Another part of the brain called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dLPFC) was also triggered when the participant knew the brand of drink. This region can produce dopamine and activate the brain’s pleasure center. Both beverages had this effect, but significantly more participants drinking Coke stimulated the dLPFC, which produced dopamine, than those drinking Pepsi because more people had fond memories drinking Coke. Who knew — great branding actually has the power to stimulate people’s brain chemistry. Personally, drinking Pepsi is a last resort for me — blind taste test or not. Coke is delicious, and I think I’d prefer to drink water over Pepsi.

Will parts produced from your company produce more dopamine in your customers’ brains than those made by your competitors? You better have some good branding like Coke.

Questions:

Coke or Pepsi?

Does it bother you to pay $5 for a drink at Starbucks?

Read the interview Noah Graff did with Dan Ariely in 2009 here.

Share this post

Fracking For Fords

By Lloyd Graff

2015 Ford F-150 aluminum frame shown at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show

Going into 2015, the machining folk have an interesting reversal of fortune from recent years. Automotive sales are nudging towards 17 million with trucks and SUVs taking 52% marketshare. The new Ford F-150 with the aluminum body is just hitting the showrooms, and Honda’s CR-V was last month’s top seller. The remarkable drop in oil and gas prices should expand volume especially for trucks. It’s possible that the weak retail sales numbers from Black Friday indicate more buyers gravitating to auto dealerships.

The losers in the oil plunge are the folks heavy into oil exploration and drilling products. Until recently there was a $20 to $30 per barrel “political risk” premium built into oil prices. The American fracking boom turned this premium on its head, but the market did not take notice until last month. Now the political risk has shifted to the downside as the Saudis keep up their output to punish Iran, Russia and the American shalers. It will be interesting to see if President Obama okays the Keystone Pipeline to inflict more pain on the Russians and Iranians via oil prices, though it is less important today than two years ago. The Alberta tar sands oil will ultimately get into the world market through a Canadian port or a U.S. port unless prices fall far enough to make it uneconomical.

The huge solar farms in the Arizona and California deserts are reaching parity with carbon fuels, which is another huge development. If a real breakthrough occurs soon in battery storage capability, the oil and gas industry could see long-term flat to dropping prices. The oil patch guys are quite worried now, which explains the recent Halliburton – Baker Hughes merger.

New home sales are still rather sleepy compared to 10 years ago, with family formation limping along, immigration shriveled and mortgage money hard to get. College debt also dampens demand. This is not changing much, but the overhang of foreclosed dwellings has substantially shrunken. Banks are loaded with cash, but the regulators are forcing them into super conservative investments like U.S. Government bonds, which cramps small business borrowing for startups and machinery.

With manufacturing down in Europe and China, it will be worth watching to see if companies there become more aggressive in penetrating the U.S. market. The Euro and Japanese Yen have dropped substantially in value, which could make European and Japanese products more competitive here.

*******

As a University of Michigan alum I have never been a big fan of Ohio State football, but I admit that I admire Urban Meyer as a coach. He dealt with the adversity of losing All-American candidate Braston Miller at quarterback, replaced him with freshman JT Barrett who had a Heisman Trophy-type season only to get a broken ankle in his 12th game. Then came the news about OSU’s defensive lineman Kosta Karageorge, who had gone missing from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His body was found in a garbage dumpster at the Columbus bus station Sunday.

If Meyer can beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game this Saturday, he is worthy of Coach of the Year. But perhaps we should wait for more of the Kosta Karageorge story before we get carried away.

Question: Do you decide whether or not to buy a truck based on the price of oil?

Share this post

The Industrialization of Space

Courtesy of The Atlantic. By MEGAN GARBER

This week, NASA marked a milestone: the first object manufactured outside of Earth.

We may talk about “space tourism” as a specialized form of space travel; even the most cutting-edge space exploration, though, is disconcertingly similar to the basic experience of Earth-bound voyaging. You pack your bags, trying your best to plan for every circumstance that might arise while you’re away, and then you’re stuck with what you’ve brought. In space’s case, the suitcases in question may be spacecraft and the tools required may be slightly more complex than voltage converters and travel-size shampoos … but the idea’s the same: If you’ll need something on your trip to space, you have to bring it with you.

That basic paradigm, though, is changing. This week, NASA announced a breakthrough: For the first time, humans have 3-D-printed an object to be used in space exploration from space itself. The item in question was appropriately meta: a faceplate for the 3-D printer that was recently delivered to the International Space Station, the laboratory that orbits some 240 miles from Earth.

“It’s not only the first part printed in space, it’s really the first object truly manufactured off planet Earth,” Aaron Kemmer, the CEO of Made in Space, which built the printer for NASA, told NBC News. “Where there was not an object before, we essentially ‘teleported’ an object by sending the bits and having it made on the printer. It’s a big milestone, not only for NASA and Made In Space, but for humanity as a whole.”

Read more here.

Share this post