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Watch this space

19 June 2018

Metal additive manufacturing is moving rapidly from prototyping to production for mission-critical, risk-averse applications in defence and aerospace, as this collaboration between 3D Systems and Thales Alenia Space to use Direct Metal Printing (DMP) for the production of antenna brackets for a geostationary telecommunications satellite demonstrates

A joint venture between Thales (67%) and Leonardo (33%); Thales Alenia Space also teams up with Telespazio to form the parent companies’ Space Alliance. Based in Toulouse, France, it is one of the leading aerospace suppliers in the world, with consolidated revenues about 2.6 billion euros in 2017. The company has 7980 employees in nine countries specialising in telecommunications, navigation, Earth observation, environmental management, exploration, science and orbital infrastructures.

engineers from Thales Alenia Space applied topological optimisation to the 3D printing process

Each of the four brackets for the satellite required an individualised design, as they are mounted on the antenna’s reflector edges and screwed onto a shaped surface. Working with the 3D Systems On Demand Manufacturing (ODM) team in Belgium, engineers from Thales Alenia Space applied topological optimisation to the 3D printing process following a design for manufacturability approach. This determines the most-efficient material layout to meet the exact performance specifications of each part. It takes into consideration the given space allowed, loads that need to be handled, boundary conditions and other critical engineering factors.

The antenna brackets were produced by 3D Systems on its ProX DMP 320 machine. Designed for heavy-duty metal parts production, the machine uses a totally new architecture that simplifies set-up and provides the versatility to produce all types of part geometries in titanium (grades 1, 5 and 23), nickel super alloy and Stainless 316L.

A controlled vacuum build chamber ensures that every part is printed with proven material properties, density and chemical purity. Here, the extremely low O2 levels deliver several key benefits, including better conservation of powder quality, no micro oxidation of parts and fewer oxide interstitials during printing, and improved mechanical properties for O2- sensitive alloys.

Half the time

The combination of 3D Systems’ expertise and the advanced capabilities of the ProX DMP 320 delivered exactly what Thales Alenia Space needed in about half the time it would have taken with traditional manufacturing. Together Thales Alenia Space were able to guarantee that all quality aspects and tolerances were met. The LaserForm Ti Grade 5(A) brackets, which measure 190 x 230 x 290mm in overall size, are 25-percent lighter than brackets manufactured by traditional means and feature a better stiffness-to-weight ratio. Production costs have been reduced considerably and total time from order to shipping – including file preparation, 3D printing, heat treatment, finishing, CNC milling, quality-control analysis, cleaning and data traceability – was four to five weeks, compared to 10 weeks using traditional methods.

The collaboration between 3D Systems and Thales Alenia Space is emblematic of the accelerating adoption of DMP by defence and aerospace organisations worldwide. Direct Metal Printing is now qualified and fully available for titanium Thales Alenia Space aerospace applications. Today, for certain products like the satellites, 80 percent of metal parts are produced using 3D printing, replacing traditionally manufactured parts. It appears to be just a matter of time before DMP takes its mainstream place alongside the traditional metal manufacturing processes that it complements.

Key Points

  • Satellite antenna brackets produced by 3D Systems on its ProX DMP 320 machine, which is designed for heavy-duty metal parts production
  • A controlled vacuum build chamber ensures that every part is printed with proven material properties, density and chemical purity
  • The collaboration between 3D Systems and Thales Alenia Space shows accelerating adoption of DMP in defence and aerospace

 
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