Velo3D, the Silicon Valley-based maker of metal additive manufacturing (AM) platforms, announced that the company has sold both a Sapphire and a Sapphire XC to Hermeus, a hypersonic aircraft startup based in Atlanta, Georgia. The original Sapphire, and the large-format, high-volume XC, will be used to make parts for Hermeus’ Chimera engine and Quarterhorse aircraft.
Founded in 2018 to develop both commercial and defense hypersonic aircraft, Hermeus received $100 million in its Series B financing earlier this year. The company has been supported by a range of government agencies including the Air Force and NASA, and has connections to established aerospace/defense giants such as Raytheon. ‘Hypersonic’ is used to refer to all speeds above Mach 5, which is about five times the speed of sound.
Velo3D’s Sapphire was also recently used for preliminary hypersonics experiments by the Slabaugh Group research team at Purdue University’s Zucrow Laboratories. With the initial phase of study proving successful thanks in part to Velo3D, the Slabaugh Group plans to begin the full experiment this fall.
As with the aerospace sector in general, the appeal of metal AM for hypersonic applications is not only the ability to create parts with unique, complex geometries, but equally, the ability to do so quickly. Additionally, with hypersonics, the increased capacity that AM facilitates for using specialty metals for stronger parts, which are more resistant to corrosion, takes on an added significance.
Presumably, reduced lead times for stronger parts will be indispensable towards Hermeus meeting the 2023 deadline for the first flight of the Quarterhorse, an autonomous aircraft. Moreover, Hermeus plans on the Quarterhorse’s being designated the world’s fastest aircraft upon its test flight sometime next year. Considering the difficulties in meeting production deadlines that even conventional aerospace manufacturers have been facing, Hermeus’ strategy to produce as many parts as possible in-house seems like a smart play.
Given all that, the hypersonics sector is just as significant to the aerospace sector at-large for testing new supply chain management techniques, as it is for testing new technology. Regardless of the ultimate practicality of hypersonic flight, it seems to be a useful sandbox for all sorts of next-generation production systems, as well as a stimulus for investment in new hardware and materials.
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