Fasteners - screws, bolts, washers, brackets, conduit, nuts, wire - both coated and uncoated

There are many sources of how we will mine the regolith for ores that contain useful quantities of water, iron, aluminum, titanium.

There are also great sources on 3d printing of parts.

My question is for the bulk creation of these fundamental parts of construction, has anyone done an analysis or a paper on the likely processes employed to be sure our martians are well supplied with screws?

I tried to give a small amount of comedy with that last statement, but I am absolutely serious. I am interested in getting past the "magazine cover" issues and get down to the nuts and bolts of colonizing Mars.

And I thought to start with getting this nailed down.

While 3D printing is amazing, I would think we would actually want to re-create many parts of the current industrial practices of milling and shaping metallic parts. Reading about making wire it is a surprisingly sophisticated process and I cannot see us wasting BFR trips with buckets of bolts from Home Depot.

So, any pointers on the first or second order solutions here?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Or how about any plans SpaceX has, and development they are doing to actually build any of these needed systems. Musk has 'hand waved' that once they provide transport, industries will provide the needed equipment. $\endgroup$
    – geoffc
    Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 16:24
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I'm on the fence about voting to close this as too broad, since it seems you are asking for a list of sources that could be open-ended. But it's an interesting topic; is there a way you can narrow the focus? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 17:52
  • $\begingroup$ I understand, it is broad. Perhaps if I were to break it up into a meta-question of what are some of the more obscure papers / issues of in-situ in regards to X? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 19:47
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ There are hundreds ways of manufacturing that are more efficient (if less versatile) than 3D printing. I'm pretty sure casting metal into fundamental shapes (bars, sheets, rods) and machining them into hardware would be the way for the bulk approach - with machines partially brought, partially 3D-printed on site. $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 20:59
  • $\begingroup$ Wires are produced since many centuries by drawing the metal through a hole. For thin wires this process is repeated many times with smaller holes. To mill or print a wire would be very inefficient. Instead of wrapping the wire in PVC the isolation is moulded seamless around the wire. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 21:06

1 Answer 1


The attraction of a 3D printer is that a small machine can make many parts, where traditional manufacturing requires large, specialized machines for each type of part.

Washers, brackets and conduit are stamped, requiring a hydraulic press and steel dies. Wire requires a wire mill. Screws require a wire mill and a screw cutter. etc.

So initially, the choice is between loading a BFR with one set of screw-making equipment, or loading it with 100 tons of screws, or loading it with a set of 3D printers and their supplies to make ~100 tons of everything.

For in-situ mining the numbers are even larger: a mining setup requires thousands of tons of equipment.

  • $\begingroup$ Mass productioned screws are not cut, the threads are rolled. See Wikipedia. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 8:18
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Or, have the 3d printers make screw-making equipment. $\endgroup$
    – kim holder
    Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 16:03
  • $\begingroup$ To machine a part of structural steel, tools made of the harder tool steel are used. If the 3d printer may process structural steel only, you can print parts, but no tools, for instance no screw-making equipment. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 20:13

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.