In a sure sign that additive manufacturing is safer, produces strong, reliable parts, and saves on time and money, a couple companies have begun 3D printing extremely important components for rocket engines, and even the engines themselves. Back in June, we reported on quite the achievement from Aerojet Rocketdyne, a Gencorp company, when they announced that they had 3D printed an entire engine called the ‘Baby Banton’, which is capable of 5,000 lbs of thrust. In doing so, they were able to cut the total number of parts from dozens to only three, and shave 65% off the normal manufacturing costs. SpaceX has also been working with 3D printers to fabricate parts for their thrusters on their spacecraft.
Today Gencorp, and their subsidiary, Aerospace Rocketdyne, have announced a new contract signed with the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, outside of Dayton, Ohio, via the Defense Production Act Title III Office. The defense contract will include several large-scale laser sintering machines, used for the development of liquid rocket engine applications. The machines will then be used to fabricate parts which have traditionally been manufactured via conventional methods such as casting, forging, brazing, welding and molding, for various uses with National Security Space Launch programs.
“Our liquid rocket engines have been used for half a century and our products are highly efficient and complex with a safety and reliability record that is unparalleled,” said Jeff Haynes, program manager of Additive Manufacturing at Aerojet Rocketdyne. “Incremental manufacturing advances have been applied over the history of these programs with great success. Additive manufacturing shifts these advances into high gear and ultimately transforms how these engines are produced.”
Over the last four years, the company has been manufacturing parts via laser sintering 3D printers, mostly confined to part sizes of around 10-inches cubed. According to Steve Bouley, vice president of Space Launch Systems at Aerojet Rocketdyne, the company has recently produced large-scale machines capable of printing parts six times that size today.
“We are extremely honored to have received this contract, and foresee the day when additive-manufactured engines are used to boost and place important payloads into orbit,” said Bouley. “The end result will be a more efficient, cost-effective engine.”
The parts being produced under this contract will be anything from heat exchangers, to large ducts, and incorporate metals such as copper, aluminum, and nickel alloys. These alloys will start out in powder form, before being melted, laser-by-laser, to form an end-use product capable of withstanding intense heat, and generally rough environments.
This contract certainly underlines the growing number of additive manufacturing applications within both the public and private sectors. It shows 3D printing’s ability to be used in the fabrication of parts capable of ulitizations within intense environments for the aerospace industry.
Let’s hear your thoughts on this defense contract, and what it could mean for the additive manufacturing industry in general, in the Aerospace Rocketdyne contract forum thread on 3DPB.com.
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