This article originally appeared in the Oct. 22, 2018 issue of SpaceNews magazine.
Space system engineers, who once saw additive manufacturing as a way to trim the size and weight of conventional components, are beginning to see its true potential, said Stewart Deadman, Burloak Technologies’ space products manager.
“I’ve seen the biggest change in mindset in the last six months,” Deadman said. “We’ve had customers throw out the rule books.”
Instead of printing parts designed for traditional molds, mills and lathes, Burloak’s space industry customers are beginning to “think additively,” Deadman said. By that he means replacing designs conceived for molds, mills and lathes with organic shapes created for printing.
Burloak of Hamilton, Ontario, a division of Samuel, Son and Co., announced in October that it purchased one of the world’s largest additive manufacturing systems, Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing System (EBAM) 110, produced by Sciaky, a subsidiary of Phillips Service Industries.
The company purchased the machine with aircraft manufacturers in mind, but has since heard from three “top-tier” space companies about printing large prototypes, Deadman said. He declined to name them.
Two of the space industry customers are interested in printing propellant tanks while the third wants to turn multipart spacecraft assemblies into single pieces with less mass, he said.
Deadman attributes the strong demand among space companies to greater understanding of additive manufacturing and increasingly capable machines capable of printing and welding large parts. EBAM 110, for example, has a workspace of about one-quarter cubic meter and can deposit more than 11 kilograms of metal per hour.
“It’s science fiction to me,” Deadman said. “It’s hard to believe it until you see it.”