The ability to 3D print satellite parts sounds like something out of science fiction, but Swinburne University of Technology is planning to do it.
The university will install an elaborate 3D printing system next year, built by additive manufacturing company Titomic. The system will be able to print a range of different substances, including metals often needed in space technology.
“We will be able to manufacture exotic metals like titanium, certain stainless steels, certain nickel-based alloys – which are used a lot in high temperature space rockets – and materials like aluminum alloys”, lists Dr Andrew Ang. , Senior Engineer Researcher at Swinburne.
The ability to 3D print with these materials will make the manufacturing process less expensive and more efficient.
“Traditionally what happens is if you want a titanium part, with all of these intricate shapes, you get a titanium block – a rectangular block, like a block of ice,” Ang explains. “You put it on a milling machine and subtract material. It is quite unnecessary, and also quite time consuming.
In an additive manufacturing system like their new 3D printer, however, parts are made by spraying small amounts of powdered metal (or other substances) at specific locations, based on a digital model, until until the play is finished.
See more: Building an Australian Satellite-Connected Space Industry
Unlike common commercial 3D printers, the system – called the Titomic TKF1000 – won’t use heat or lasers to make components, but a supersonic jet of gas.
“It uses what we call kinetic fusion,” says Ang. “We feed the metal particles at a very high speed, roughly the speed of sound, and the particles hit the surface. [of the target] then merge to form a 3D object.
The system will also be able to mix materials. “You might want titanium for the first layer, then you might want to have another layer of a different material,” says Ang.
The system will occupy a room roughly the size of a small shipping container, housing the printing nozzles, powder units, and the computer that controls the device.
The facility will be funded by a $ 2.3 million grant from the federal government’s Modern Manufacturing Initiative.
Ang says that once installed, at the end of next year, the printer will be used to print parts for their space industry partners, as well as to see what they can do with different mixes of materials. .
Note: Grant recipient Professor Alan Duffy is the lead scientist at RiAus, which runs Cosmos magazine.