3D Printing Moving At Hypersonic Speeds

Aerospace 3D printing is rapidly becoming a top priority for the leaders in aerospace manufacturing. The benefits are apparent, the technology continues to become more sophisticated and more reliable. Orbital ATK is one of the leaders facing metal additive manufacturing head on and now they have continued to prove themselves in this emerging field. Orbital ATK has just successfully tested a hypersonic engine combustor that was produced through additive manufacturing.

At NASA’s Langley Research Center, Orbital ATK has proven the reliability and strength of the 3D printed hypersonic engine combustor and passed the trials with flying colors.

The combustor was manufactured through a 3D printing process known as powder bed fusions (PBF), which uses an electron beam to fuse layers of metal powder together. The PBF-produced component withstood high temperature hypersonic flight conditions and repeated tests over a 20 day period. Even while undergoing one of the longest propulsion wind tunnel tests ever recorded for a unit of this kind, the hypersonic engine combustor performed flawlessly.

This component, a scramjet combustor, is used to house and maintain a stable combustion within an extremely volatile environment. With speeds in excess of Mach 5 (3,800 mph), the scramjet combustor was put under a tremendous amount of stress.

Orbital’s’ main goal was to see if the PBF-produced part would be reliable enough to meet mission standards.

“Additive manufacturing opens up new possibilities for our designers and engineers,” said Pat Nolan, Vice President and General Manager of Orbital ATK’s Missile Products division of the Defense Systems Group. “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.” (bit.ly/1KuEIiZ)

Assembly took place at the companies Ronkonkoma, New York facility and the Allegany Ballistics Laboratory in Rocket Center, West Virginia.

The PBF process is an amazing additive manufacturing option for this kind of component. The accuracy and reliability of the 3d printed process allows for more complex structures to be built. Orbital ATK stated that PBF printing was necessary because the intricate design of the combustor would otherwise require multiple parts and a drawn out and expensive manufacturing process. PBF was able to dramatically reduce the cost, time, and the amount of parts it took to produce the advanced component.

3D printing offers so many advantages when it comes to manufacturing advanced components such as the scramjet combustor. Having the ability to cut down on product testing, cost, and the amount of total components, 3D printing offers incredible savings to the manufacturer, as well as making it much easier to produce more completed components in less time. The success of this test opens up even more doors for metal additive manufacturing as the reliability of these components continue to be put through rigorous testing. As time goes on and this technology continues to become even more advanced, there will be no shortage of 3D printed components in aircraft of all kinds.





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