The aerospace and defense industries are taking to 3D printing, not just because of the government funding associated with the technology, but because of the design benefits that it offers. By re-engineering parts to have complex geometries or join previously disparate components, new designs can reduce material weight and improve efficiency. In turn, we’ve seen a number of corporations and organizations begin testing the viability of 3D printed rocket components. The latest is US defense manufacturer Orbital ATK, who have just announced the successful test of a 3D printed hypersonic engine combustor at NASA Langley Research Center.
3D printed via powder bed fusion, though the exact energy source is not disclosed, the combustor was put through a battery of tests, including 20-day exposures to diverse high-temperature hypersonic flight conditions, which resulted in one of the longest recorded propulsion wind tunnel tests. The results of the tests demonstrated to the team that the part met or exceeded requirements in a number of scenarios, demonstrating that powder bed fusion was capable of producing critical mission parts.
Orbital ATK Missile Products general manager Pat Nolan said of the project, “Additive manufacturing opens up new possibilities for our designers and engineers. This combustor is a great example of a component that was impossible to build just a few years ago. This successful test will encourage our engineers to continue to explore new designs and use these innovative tools to lower costs and decrease manufacturing time.”
As aerospace and defense manufacturers embrace this increasingly validated technology, their engineers will have to learn to design in a whole new light. And, as multi-metal 3D printing becomes possible, there will be whole new methods of design they’ll have to take on, as well.