Metal 3D Printing in the Aerospace Industry — A Few Questions For: Formalloy


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The A222 up close.

Last month, the agenda was announced for next week’s Inside 3D Printing San Diego event, hosted by global events producer Rising Media. It will be held at the San Diego Convention Center this coming Monday and Tuesday, December 4th and 5th. Included in the event’s long list of speakers is Melanie Lang, the Co-Founder and Director of Business Development for metal 3D printer manufacturer Formalloy. The California-based company has made some big waves since its January 2016 emergence, such as with its first laser metal deposition (LMD) machine: the unique open powder A222 system, which was introduced at the company’s RAPID 2016 booth and has the capability to blend multiple metals and magnets.

At the event last year, Lang, who holds a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Illinois and an M.S. in Systems Architecture & Engineering from the University of Southern California, told that she and her colleagues got their 3D printing start as hobbyists, but collectively agreed that small-scale plastic printing did not offer many real-world applications, and so turned their attention to metal 3D printing – a very smart decision in today’s industry. In addition to the L-series LMD system showcased at formnext recently, the company introduced its new Formax Metal Deposition Head this summer, which set Formalloy up as a full-suite provider of LMD components, machines, and services.

The design envelope for a product can be expanded, and material costs and production time decreased, by using these technologies, and at I3DP San Diego Lang will also discuss Formalloy’s results, including quality and tensile testing, of working with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center to develop a Rocket Nozzle Demonstrator.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Lang, and had A Few Questions For her about Formalloy, its technology, and its work with NASA.

Melanie Lang [Image via LinkedIn]

At last year’s Inside 3D Printing San Diego, Formalloy showcased its A222 3D printer. Will the company be debuting any new printers or products at this year’s show?

“Formalloy will be discussing our recently released L-series Laser Metal Deposition system which includes an inert gas build chamber, scientific monitoring capability and a blue wavelength laser. Leveraging the latest in Blue Laser technology, the L-series machine can be used to 3D print, repair and clad metallic parts using a greater range of materials more quickly and accurately than comparable processes.”

How have sales been for the new LMD L-series machine model?

“The first machine of its kind has been produced and delivered at the University of California – San Diego (UCSD)’s Department of Nanotechnology.”

Formalloy L221

Can you tell me a little more about the NASA Rocket Nozzle Demonstrator you’ll be speaking about at the show?  

“Formalloy has delivered multiple rocket nozzle demonstrator parts to NASA-Marshall, as part of a series of R&D projects to assist the space agency’s additive development efforts. NASA completed tensile and quality testing on Formalloy-printed samples built on the company’s A-222 machine model. With virtually no material porosity and sufficient tensile strength, NASA is continuing R&D feasibility studies with Formalloy.”

Formalloy’s 3D printing technology – NASA part

Do you think design optimization capabilities that are made possible through 3D printing are changing the shape of aerospace components?

“In general 3D printing, and particularly laser metal deposition, expands the design envelope for aerospace components. Components can be made with complex interior structures and gradient materials that have not been possible in the past.”

Why is Laser Metal Deposition technology better than other powder bed technologies for developing the Rocket Nozzle Demonstrator?

“Laser metal deposition provides benefits such as scalability to produce large parts, significantly-reduced build time, excellent powder efficiency, and multi-material or gradient material properties.”

Where do you believe Formalloy’s LMD technology makes the greatest impact?

“Formalloy’s LMD systems are a disruptive technology that delivers on the future we could have previously only imagined (think designing thermal properties into a rocket part using gradient materials, for example). We are working on the next generation of how we build high value components, and doing so here in the U.S.”

What is the next stage in the development process for the Rocket Nozzle Demonstrator?

“NASA is leveraging Formalloy’s laser metal deposition technology for development and feasibility studies to investigate scalability of additive manufacturing for large, high value components. Laser metal deposition technology is being explored as an alternative to powder bed technology in order to produce key components such as rocket nozzles.”

Rocket Nozzle Demonstrator

Will Formalloy be working on any more aerospace prototypes with NASA in the future?

“Formalloy looks forward to continuing work with NASA by enabling gradient-material and difficult-to-process materials such as copper, for rocket nozzle design & builds.”

Is Formalloy still doing experiments with magnetic materials?

“Formalloy has demonstrated the ability to 3D print with magnetic materials for custom-shaped magnets. Formalloy is available to conduct R&D and feasibility studies for customers interested in magnetic material 3D-printing.”

What kind of growth should we expect in terms of metal AM in 2018?

“I expect significant growth in 2018, on par with the growth rates that have existed over the past several years. Because of the excellent powder efficiency, scalability, and build times, I expect laser metal deposition/directed energy deposition to grow significantly and outpace the general AM market as adoption rates increase and designs begin to incorporate the new realm of what is possible.”

Lang has a background of over 14 years as an engineer and program manager in the aerospace and defense industry, and will be speaking during the Innovation in Metals track of next week’s I3DP San Diego. Her “Aerospace Prototyping – NASA Rocket Nozzle Demonstrator” session will take place on Tuesday, December 5th, at 9:50 AM in Room 11A, and will review the additive process steps for using the LMD and directed energy deposition (DED) 3D printing technologies. If you’re interested in learning more about Formalloy and its technology, check out Lang’s talk this coming Tuesday at Inside 3D Printing San Diego; you can register for the event here.

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