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.
Nice to know that Pratt & Whitney is working with the University of Connecticut on additive manufacturing. As we've said in previous stories and comments, universities need to be on top of this trend because it's happening so fast. That way, our next generation of engineers will be ready for it.
The ability to fabricate parts in space would certainly take the drama out of an Apollo-13 type repair scenario. Instead of scrounging pieces and duct-taping them together, you could make a whole new part, or even a totally redesigned part to deal with the situation.
TJ, your sci-fi movie scenario sounds just like what NASA envisions--feed everything into it and out comes the perfect replacement part. I'd like to see multi-material (metals + plastic) 3D printers, too. Those may not be so far away, since the architectural types use a wide variety of materials already.
Mydesign, thanks for your enthusiasm. There's a lot going on with 3D printing of metals, more than most people know, since these companies have been very quiet compared to the hobbyist end machines that use plastics.
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For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.