The world of 3D printing extends well beyond the boundaries of our planet. The United Launch Alliance (ULA) changed the game of aerospace exploration earlier this year when they announced a shift from traditional metallic applications to additive manufacturing using Stratasys Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) 3D printing technology. The result? ULA “saves over $1M a year by 3D printing rocket components from plastic,” according to an International Business Times’ (IBT) exclusive interview with ULA’s program manager for additive manufacturing, Greg Arend. “In addition, ULA is saving over 50%, and in some cases 95%, by 3D printing rocket components over traditional methods.” (Source IBT, April 17, 2015)
Additive manufacturing applications have soared for industries like aerospace due to the demand for high complexity, low volume parts. Additionally, advanced materials like ULTEM™ 9085 offer superior performance with a high strength-to-weight ratio that is resistant to extreme heat and chemicals.
According to the IBT article, ULA recognizes the capabilities of ULTEM, stating advantages which include lower costs and less post-processing work involved. “With metal parts, you have to do additional machining, heat treating, or radiographic inspection. It’s expensive and time consuming, and the machines themselves tend to be more expensive,” said Arend. (Source IBT, April 17, 2015)
As 3D printing continues to evolve, so do operational practices at ULA. It starts with extensive training in additive manufacturing with all engineering staff. “They learn how to design for additive manufacturing and how to analyze, test, and accept those parts,” said Arend. “Once we get all the machines and properties defined here in Denver, we roll that capability into our production sites.”
With plans to produce over 100 3D printed components for their next generation rocket model, ULA has only just begun their journey into additive manufacturing applications.
ULA is now extending the use of additive manufacturing. “We have just touched the tip of the iceberg with additive manufacturing,” said Kyle Whitlow, Structural Engineer at ULA. “In the long term, it allows us better, faster and lighter designs. This is a game changing technology, it changes how people think and do business.”
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