NASA and Aerojet Rocketdyne have completed hot-fire tests on a 3D-printed rocket injector assembly. The liquid-oxygen/gaseous hydrogen rocket injector assembly was built with a selective laser melting (SLM) process that uses high-powered laser beams to fuse powdered metals.
The tests were done at NASA's Glenn Research Center. Aerojet Rocketdyne, which produces propulsion systems, missiles, and launch vehicles, provided data about material design and the additive manufacturing (AM) process for the hot-fire tests to ensure reliability and safety. The manufacturer's engineers designed the injector as part of an effort to save costs by reducing the manufacturing lead times for complex rocket engine components. The injector can be produced in about four months, instead of more than a year using traditional manufacturing methods.
NASA and Aerojet Rocketdyne have completed hot-fire tests on a rocket injector assembly made with a selective laser melting 3D printing process and powdered metals. (Source: NASA Glenn Research Center)
Aerojet Rocketdyne said in a press release that it's pursuing methods for achieving an integrated AM process, along with related analysis and design tools and component technologies, to make it possible to manufacture rocket engine components with SLM. The successful testing of the rocket injector was a first step in making this possible. Future steps will include scaling up the process and establishing production
requirements. The company says on its website that it's also involved in developing new materials (including metallics), AM techniques, and powder metal technologies.
We've discussed several NASA 3D printing ventures previously. A program at the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center uses an SLM process to make metal engine parts for the Space Launch System, a next-generation heavy-lift rocket. The parts are being built with Concept Laser's M2 Cusing machine and powdered metals. Another NASA project aims to give astronauts quick access to tools, replacement parts, and instruments. The agency partnered with Made in Space to develop a 3D printer astronauts can use on the International Space Station.
Aircraft engine makers are pursing their own R&D projects. GE Aviation is using direct metal laser melting AM techniques to make production components for some of its engines. It expects new in-process inspection technology it is co-developing with Sigma Labs to reduce AM times and help assure build quality and repeatability. Pratt & Whitney has opened its own lab at the University of Connecticut to advance R&D for the AM processes that produce metal aircraft engine parts.
If the 3D printing of metal end-use production parts becomes integrated into regular manufacturing flows, it may happen first in aerospace. Manufacturing tends to involve low volumes and very high performance requirements. That means multiple iterations, which AM makes especially easy. And the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute was launched to help revitalize research in areas like defense and aerospace.
Mydesign, I'm pretty sure 3D printing--or more likely, other forms of AM--isn't used in avionics. But it's definitely been used in aerospace for quite awhile. While much of this is prototyping, some is actually end-use parts. You might want to check out our site's aerospace section--go to the bar with white letters on black background above this comments area, and click on the pull-down menu "Aerospace." Then check out my stories for the last year or so and you'll find some that address this topic.
I agree with Ann completely. The partnership between universities and the corporate firms serve to improve the quality of the research made. The universities get the required funds for their research while the firms get fresh and fine minds to aid with their developments.
"3D printing of metals has been around for a long time, relatively speaking, in aerospace and defense, so the technology may not be growing quite as fast as you think. It's not clear to me--nor can I get anyone to tell me directly--why or how it's been possible to improve performance to the point where we can build rocket engines using the technology. I get the impression that it's mostly evolution, like in any other technology."
Ann, am working in avionics and space technology, but so far I never heard of 3D printing in this domain. Am trying to explore more on similar technology, so that if possible, deploy such solutions.
1. The current patent holders have an experience edge. I think they will come out with new printers, at both the low and high end. The differentiators (my guess) are the materials and the resolution.
2. New folks will enter the field, including the hacker/DIY (ie Rip-Rap) and turn-key folks (ie Type A Machines) although it may take them a year or two because of funding - look to Indigogo and Kickstarter for host projects.
3. An obvious source of the low-end designs are the MechE/CS/EE students at universities. 3D metal printers will make *excellent* student projects, because they will require cross-skilled teams. I suspect there might even be national competitions hosted by IEEE or similar groups.
Read "Makers" by Cory Doctorow - a fantastic thought experiment (as all good SF is) on the effects of cheap 3D printers of all sorts.
mr_bandit, there's been some press recently about the upcoming expiration of patents for SLS 3D printing of metals. These printers already exist, at the high end--it's most likely the low end where they will become a lot more common. That could change the game quite a bit.
The basic patents for 3D printing - including some for metal - will expire in 2014. I suspect folks are working on printers using those techniques so they are ready for sale when the patents expire.
The biggest change is in 5..10 years it will be possible to 3d print all major organs using the patient's own cells, eleminating rejection. )The only exception is the brain, but there are a lot of folks around that don't seem to miss having one. Mostly they are known as managers and politicians. :^)
Mydesign, your comment about 3D printing humans is very funny. It is true, as we've pointed out elsewhere http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1394&doc_id=256836 that body parts are being 3D printed, although so far they're mostly non-working prototypes. The 3D printed kidney mentioned in the Design News article--which was printed during a TED talk using living cells--is not yet working, but the same institution--Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine--has developed its own modified 3D printer to produce organ and tissue prototypes. Here's the TED talk link: http://www.ted.com/talks/anthony_atala_printing_a_human_kidney.html Here are some links from the Institute: http://www.wakehealth.edu/Research/WFIRM/Our-Story/Inside-the-Lab/Bioprinting.htm http://www.wakehealth.edu/Research/WFIRM/Projects/Replacement-Organs-and-Tissue.htm
Mydesign, 3D printing of metals has been around for a long time, relatively speaking, in aerospace and defense, so the technology may not be growing quite as fast as you think. It's not clear to me--nor can I get anyone to tell me directly--why or how it's been possible to improve performance to the point where we can build rocket engines using the technology. I get the impression that it's mostly evolution, like in any other technology.
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Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.