Monday, March 11, 2019

New 3D Printed Manufacturing Methodologies for the Space Age

          By Brian Orlotti

A team from Cannes France based Thales Alenia Space (TAS), Bedford UK based Cranfield University and Glascow UK based Glenalmond Technologies has successfully 3d printed a full-scale prototype of a titanium tank to be used in future crewed space exploration missions.

As outlined in the March 8th, 2019 Manufacturing Technology post, "Titanium pressure vessel for space exploration made using additive manufacturing," the tank is made of a titanium alloy deposited using an additive process called Wire + Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM). The tank is approximately 1m in height and 8.5kg in mass.

The WAAM process enabled two individual pieces to be integrated into a single part, eliminating the need for long-lead-time forgings and substantially reducing waste material to be removed by machining. If manufactured traditionally, the tank would have required about 30 times more raw material than its final mass.

In WAAM, metal wire is melted using an electric arc and deposited in layers to build an object. WAAM’s precision enables it to produce near-final forms requiring only minimal machining.

WAAM’s high precision places it in the middle ground between accurate, but slower laser-based 3d printers and less accurate, but high-deposition-rate plasma/electron beam-based 3d printers. WAAM’s software and hardware has been in development for over 10 years at Cranfield, leading the university to spin-off a new company, WAAM3D, to commercialize the technology.

The tank was manufactured at Cranfield U, then sent to Glenalmond Technologies to be laser-scanned, machined and inspected using an ultrasonic method.

The final inspection was performed by Bolongna ITaly based Agiometrix using a computerized tomography (CT) scanner as well as an optical scanner for internal quality analysis and an optical scanner, with TAS ensuring that the part met all mechanical requirements and specifications.

Satisfied with the results, the team is now building a second prototype, to fine tune the WAAM process, demonstrate its repeatability and reliability, and push for its implementation into flight hardware.

Pressurized tanks made with traditional methods based on subtractive machining typically suffer from long lead times. WAAM technology greatly reduces this time; from months to days. Such shorter lead times not only speed up part delivery, but also increase design flexibility---even in the late stage of a project.

As shown by this project and other recent projects at Hawthorne CA based SpaceX, Huntington Beach CA based Rocket Lab and Los Angeles CA based Relativity Space, 3d printing promises to finally make the promise of democratizing space exploration a reality.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a network operator at the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION), a not-for-profit network service provider to the education and research sectors.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Chunk Black,
    Nice article will be looking to also read second prototype to fine tune the WAAM process. You could check my website on Smart Manufacturing


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