The Atlas V rocket took off with 3D printed plastic parts

ULA-Atlas-V This is not really new, industrial aerospace are being equipped with 3D printers to produce certain documents. The qualities of additive manufacturing allows them to create new design for lighter parts and / or less expensive to produce than conventional processes. So it is not surprising to learn that the US ULA (United Launch Alliance) now uses 3D printing to produce parts of his rockets Delta IV and Atlas V. However, unlike the manufacturers of jet engines , ULA did not choose 3D metal printing.

3D printing type FDM on rockets too!

Printing FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) is certainly the most widespread technology on entry-level 3D printer. All individuals, makers but also industrial use that feeling where we place one or more plastic filament coils melted wire at the print head to produce the desired 3D shape. The advantage is that there is a wide variety of materials available for these filaments, including carbon with the exception of metal that requires too high melting temperature for this type of 3D printer. Therefore, many industrial aerospace prefer 3D printers type SLS (Selective LaserSintering / laser sintering) or LMD (Laser Metal Deposition) to produce titanium parts and various metal alloys used in aviation.

ULA 3D printed parts of rocket

The ECS (Environmental Control System) of the Atlas rocket V saw its number of rooms to go over 140 to only 16, thanks to 3D printing (Photo: ULA).

Yet United Launch Alliance has chosen a FDM printer to produce parts for its Delta rocket. Industrial and product pipelines some of its rockets with Fortus 900TM printer. It is indeed of parts for launchers and no prototype parts. The latter are produced ULTEM 9085, a thermoplastic that has excellent mechanical strength and characteristics of FST (flame, smoke and toxicity) that make it compatible with aeronautical use.

The solution is less expensive than the metal printing and compared with conventional manufacturing methods, for assembly as the rocket ECS (Environmental Control System), the cost of production was reduced by 57% and the number of parts component assembly was reduced from over 140 to just 16.

An illustration of the contributions of additive manufacturing in both the simplification of design in lowering manufacturing costs for small series parts. The first Atlas V rocket equipped with this simple piece flew 22 March 2016 with the supply ship Cygnus OA-6 board.

“Atlas V rocket lancé with 3D parts “ DisruptiveMagazine, March 25, 2016
“United Launch Alliance Atlas V Rocket to Launch with Stratasys 3D Printed Parts, Reducing Production Time and Costs “, Stratasys Press, April 20, 2015

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