Oerlikon at Formnext 2019: 3D printed rocket parts, post-processing, and digital factories

Oerlikon AM, the additive manufacturing branch of Swiss technology group Oerlikon, has announced a series of partnerships at this year’s Formnext show.

The company has revealed that it will be providing metal 3D printed parts and qualification for United Launch Alliance (ULA), a U.S. rocket launch service provider. ULA will use the metal components to support  the development of its Vulcan Centaur rocket.

“We are very excited about this alliance, which allows us to manufacture a number of flight components for ULA,” commented Dr. Sven Hicken, Head of Oerlikon’s Additive Manufacturing Business Unit. 

“Vulcan Centaur will advance the use of AM in rockets, and we are looking forward to the launch in 2021.”

Oerlikon also announced an agreement with Siemens, Europe’s largest industrial manufacturing company, in which the latter’s Digital Enterprise Portfolio will be integrated into Oerlikon’s additive manufacturing software. This is intended to help Oerlikon manage its additive manufacturing engineering process, and eventually help establish a digital factory. 

In addition, the company has entered into a strategic alliance with Hirtenberger Engineered Surfaces, a division of the Austrian industrial group Hirtenberger specializing in electrochemical surface finishing. Both firms are working together to explore how the Hirtisation process, a post-processing technology, can be integrated into the additive manufacturing value chain. 

From left to right: Dr. Sven Hicken, Oerlikon, Head of Additive Manufacturing Business Unit & Dr. Karsten Heuser, Siemens, Vice President for Additive Manufacturing. Photo via Oerlikon.
From left to right: Dr. Sven Hicken, Oerlikon, Head of Additive Manufacturing Business Unit & Dr. Karsten Heuser, Siemens, Vice President for Additive Manufacturing. Photo via Oerlikon.

Oerlikon additive manufacturing in aerospace

With a history stretching as far back as 1906, Oerlikon has today established itself as a global technology and engineering group, with over 10,500 employees at 175 locations in 37 countries. 

The company operates in two business segments: surface solutions and manmade fibers. Oerlikon AM falls underneath its surface solutions division. The company is also part of the recently formed Bavarian additive manufacturing cluster featuring the Technical University of Munich (TU Munich), GE Additive and Linde. The cluster aims to “conduct research on and develop additive manufacturing technology from a single hub location.”

Oerlikon has demonstrated a continued effort towards accelerating the adoption of additive manufacturing in the aerospace industry as well. In 2018, the group entered into separate partnerships with leading aircraft manufacturer Boeing and German airline Lufthansa, both surrounding the establishment of additive manufacturing standards for the aerospace industry

Most recently in June 2019, Oerlikon also entered into a part supply partnership with Augsburg-based MT Aerospace. The two companies are aiming to bring digitization to the aerospace industry and accelerate the adoption of metal 3D printing. 

Metal 3D printed parts. Photo via Oerlikon
Metal 3D printed parts. Photo via Oerlikon

Continuing its presence in aerospace applications of additive manufacturing, Oerlikon has now revealed it has been working with ULA to 3D print components for the Vulcan Centaur launch vehicle. ULA will cover the design stages of the rocket parts, whereas Oerlikon will support with Design for AM, 3D printing and post-processing. 

The components will be 3D printed in nickel alloy 718 at Oerlikon AM’s new state-of-the-art, AS9100-certified metal additive manufacturing facility in Huntersville, North Carolina, which it opened in May of this year. Once finished, the parts will then be sent to ULA’s 1.6-million-square-foot factory in Decatur, Alabama. Prior to this, Oerlikon worked with ULA to complete a six-month qualification process for additive manufactured parts that met ULA’s rigorous requirements for test and flight hardware. 

The Vulcan Centaur, said to also house the BE-4 3D printing-inclusive rocket engines developed by private American aerospace company Blue Origin, is set launch is set for its first launch in 2021. 

A 3D printing facility of Oerlikon. Image via Oerlikon.
A 3D printing facility of Oerlikon. Image via Oerlikon.

Further collaborations with Siemens and Hirtenberger 

In other news, Oerlikon’s collaboration with Siemens will see the Digital Enterprise Portfolio integrated into the company’s additive manufacturing production and R&D software. 

Helping to digitize Oerlikon’s additive manufacturing process chain, the Digital Enterprise Portfolio includes various software and hardware solutions for a range of services including engineering and product life cycle management. The long term goal of the partnership for Oerlikon is the creation of a digital factory, in which data can be traced across the process chain. 

Initially, Oerlikon and Siemens will only focus on tools used in the engineering stage of the additive manufacturing process.  Both ExOne and BeAM are also integrating the Digital Enterprise Portfolio for its machines in order to leverage the benefits and potentials of Industry 4.0

“At the moment we have a variety of special tools that we use for different steps of the value chain,” explains Dr. Hicken. “Developing a more integrated system that gives us increased visibility and puts all of our manufacturing sites on the same page will allow us more flexibility and speed in responding to customer requests. We expect this to lead to more rapid progress in integrating additively manufactured parts into series production.”

Siemens' end-to-end solutions for additive manufacturing with the Digital Enterprise Suite. Image via Siemens.
Siemens’ end-to-end solutions for additive manufacturing with the Digital Enterprise Suite. Image via Siemens.

Oerlikon’s partnership with Hirtenberger commenced earlier in 2019, when both began evaluating the Hirtisation surface treatment technology for additive manufacturing. Developed by Hirtenberger Engineered Surfaces, Hirtisation technology is designed to remove sintered-on particles and supports, as well as smooth the surfaces of 3D printed parts. It is suitable for many metals and alloys commonly used in 3D printing.

From their joint evaluation process, both companies determined the technology capable of creating smoother surface textures. It also enables the production of complex parts as it can remove internal support structures without impacting the integrity of the part. As such, both Oerlikon and Hirtenberger have now created a joint working group to help integrate the Hirtisation process into the additive manufacturing value chain. 

The industries that can benefit most from Hirtisation technology are those where complex 3D printed parts are common, such as turbomachinery, oil and gas, and automotive. As well as initially applying the technology in these industries, Oerlikon and Hirtenberger are also seeking to integrate the process within the prototyping business. 

“For Oerlikon AM, the Hirtisation Process addresses one of AM’s major challenges, which is to provide our customers with parts with more complex geometries – some of which are not possible nor economical with existing AM and post-processing technologies,” adds Dr. Christian Haecker, Head of Oerlikon AM Industrialization.

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Featured image shows launch of Atlas V Juno from Cape Canaveral AFS. Photo via Oerlikon.