Lowe's is taking 3-D printing to new heights. The home improvement chain has partnered with manufacturing company Made in Space to equip the International Space Station with a 3-D printer.
Starting next year, astronauts will be able to print Lowe's branded tools like ratchets and bolts. The printer is meant to save room while also helping astronauts get access to equipment they need in a pinch. Lowe's claims to be the first to put a commercial 3-D printer in space.
Here's how it works: When astronauts want to print something, they call a team headquartered in California. The team then sends an email, which triggers the 3-D printer to print the part.
The galactic partnership is part of Lowe's bigger push in 3-D printing. The brand is testing a printer at a store in San Francisco where people can bring in old parts and get them replaced. For example, Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe's Innovation Labs, said one customer brought in a World War II-era bike with a broken spoke, and the machine created a replacement part and shipped it to the customer's home.
Lowe's also plans to put a replica of the space station's 3-D printer in one of its San Francisco stores to show shoppers how the technology works.
"Most people have heard of 3-D printing, but few have actually seen a 3-D-printed product," Nel said.
The space project is the newest work to come out of Lowe's Innovation Labs. Last year, the retailer launched its digital lab with a Holoroom app that lets people custom design their own home and later rolled out custom-made robots that roam around stores.