AMS Spring 2023

UK’s “Satellite Applications Catapult” Acquires MetalFAB1 3D Printing System

Inkbit

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The UK’s innovation and tech company Satellite Applications Catapult will add Additive Industries’ MetalFAB1 industrial 3D printing system to their new Disruptive Innovation for Space Centre (DISC) at Westcott Venture Park in Buckinghamshire. The new additive manufacturing (AM) system will benefit the country’s space sector and drive disruptive, advanced manufacturing capabilities to the home of UK rocket technology.

Established in 2013 by the UK’s innovation agency Innovate UK, the Satellite Applications Catapult is part of a network of 10 technology and innovation “catapult” companies that aim to drive the country’s economic growth through the commercialization of research. It is working on accelerating the development of satellite applications by pairing industry with academia to research, develop and commercialize new ideas for the space market. During the coming months, Satellite Applications Catapult and Additive Industries will be demonstrating their capabilities to interested UK organizations. They will showcase the potential of AM for the space sector, with a specific emphasis on rocket engines.

UK’s Satellite Applications Catapult. Image courtesy of Satellite Applications Catapult.

Initially unveiled at Formnext 2015 in Frankfurt by Netherlands-based Additive Industries, the MetalFAB1 was created for producing large and high-quality parts at the highest productivity. The powder bed fusion 3D printer can be used with any metal powder and is already being adopted by big names in the automotive and aerospace industries. The new MetalFAB1 has been acquired as part of an investment from Buckinghamshire’s Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) through the Getting Building Fund, which aims to support the UK’s economic recovery following the COVID-19 crisis. Once installed at the Satellite Applications Catapult’s DISC center, it will be available for UK companies to use starting July 2021.

The Satellite Applications Catapult considers AM a vital technology to improve performance, reduce waste and by-products, and mainly build thousands of parts across multiple disruptive sectors, including space. However, access to 3D printing equipment with the capacity to build large parts remains prohibitively expensive for most UK small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Even acquiring a tailor-made version of the MetalFAB1 can start in approximately $250,000 and run into the seven-digit figure.

Satellite Applications Catapult headquarters in the UK. Image courtesy of Satellite Applications Catapult.

As part of its objective to remove barriers to growth for the UK space sector, the Satellite Applications Catapult is making new additive technology available to companies on a pay-as-you-go basis. They can choose to work independently or with Catapult’s expert Manufacturing for Space team. The multi-disciplined group counts scientists, Earth observation experts, analysts, designers, project managers, developers, and domain experts as part of its staff,  helping the UK capture 10% of the $550 billion global space market predicted for 2030.

With UK companies like Orbex and Skyrora announcing groundbreaking 3D printed rockets and engines soon to launch from British soil, the UK space scene appears to be taking off. In fact, Head of Manufacturing for Space at the Satellite Applications Catapult Mike Curtis-Rouse said the number of companies aspiring to build and support new launch vehicles and in-space propulsion continues to grow. He hopes new capabilities will ensure that UK SMEs can access the latest in additive manufacturing technology to accelerate their business plans, prove new processes and learn first-hand skills needed to exploit the MetalFAB1 technology fully.

Additive Industries’ MetalFAB1. Image courtesy of Additive Industries.

“Our collaboration with Additives Industries also marks a significant milestone bringing weight saving, novel geometries, low volume production requirements, and reduced part count solutions to any potential business wanting to manufacture aerospace parts,” revealed Curtis-Rouse. “Additive Industries is the only company providing industrially integrated scalable metal additive manufacturing solutions that we can acquire today. (…) Positioned at our new facility at Westcott, we look forward to creating a hotbed of testing and development to build capacity for any new or existing UK space manufacturing enterprises.”

As part of the Catapult network, which assists thousands of innovative businesses across the UK, the Satellite Applications Catapult collaborates with hundreds of space companies throughout the world to generate ideas and solutions in an open innovation environment. Over the first seven years, it has grown to a team of 150 professionals and expects to add more staff to its operations, looking to expand and scale activities to develop new satellite-based products, services, and applications, translating ideas from concept to market.

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