In 2006, NASA selected Lockheed Martin to design, develop, and build Orion, set to embark on both manned and unmanned missions, it is the agency’s newest deep space exploration spaceship that will eventually carry astronauts from the Earth to the Moon, and back. As part of a plan to extend a sustained human presence beyond low Earth orbit (LEO), advance commerce and science in space, the Artemis program is the next step in human space exploration and a part of NASA’s broader Moon to Mars approach. In 2022, the Orion crew capsule is expected to take astronauts on a ride beyond LEO, to the Moon and back, and in five years it will transport the next people to a lunar orbital post.
NASA’s Orion spacecraft has been using additive manufacturing technologies exponentially. Lockheed Martin and NASA recently announced the completion of the Orion crew and service module being developed for the uncrewed Artemis I mission, which used 100 3D printed parts. While the spacecraft for the Artemis II mission has Lockheed developing close to 200 3D printed parts.
Last September, NASA, and Lockheed finalized a contract for the production and operations of six Orion spacecraft missions with an option to order up to 12 in total. The agency’s Orion Production and Operations Contract (OPOC) is an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contract for NASA to issue both cost-plus-incentive-fee and firm-fixed-price orders. Initially, NASA has ordered three Orion spacecraft for Artemis missions III through V for $2.7 billion. Then in 2022, the agency plans to order three additional Orion spacecraft for Artemis missions VI through VIII for $1.9 billion. Up to six additional Orion spacecraft may be ordered under the IDIQ contract through 2030, leveraging spacecraft production cost data from the previous six missions to enable the lowest possible unit prices.
During an interview with Lockheed Martin Space’ specialists Brian Kaplun, Manager of the Additive Manufacturing Lab, and Colin Sipe, Orion Crew Systems Senior Manager, 3DPrint.com delved into the makings of America’s next spacecraft for a new generation of explorers.
How has additive manufacturing helped in the creation of more efficient spacecraft?
“One of the tenants of advanced manufacturing is to increase the cost and the schedule efficiency for any of our platforms, including Orion, and doing so in a way that, at the very least, maintains parity from a technical perspective but in many cases enhances that. So a lot of the work we’ve done with Orion was targeted to allow for a more efficiently reusable, cost-competitive and faster time to delivery spacecraft that will have a better technical performance. For example our docking hatch covers were printed in a cost and schedule effective manner; additionally, thanks to a new ESD compliant polymer (a type of no-static plastic) we provided more technical performance as well,” suggested Kaplun. “AM is one tool in the advance manufacturing toolbox that really allows us to hit all three of those valuable points. The plan is to continue creating AM components that we already utilized and look at increasing the number.”
While Colin Sipe explained that “we do a lot of parts that would be traditionally difficult to produce, such as structural components and brackets, different parts to channel airflow, or fuel containers, like hydrogen fuel tanks. Moreover, on the seats that the astronauts will use on Orion, we 3D printed different spacers (parts that go between the edge of the seat and the hip of the astronaut) and those come in various sizes based on the astronaut using it. We have to be able to accommodate from 1 to 99th percentile of the average American size individual.”
Do 3D printed parts withstand some of the harshest conditions in space?
“We fully qualify any of our spacecraft and platforms, and it is a qualification born of many years of doing this. On 2011 we launched the first-ever 3D printed part going to outer space on our Juno mission and right now those parts are orbiting the gas giant. So just as rigorous as we did in 2011, here in the last throes of 2019 we have to go through and really qualify any of the Orion parts. Even more so, with future manned missions, we are going to further stress those qualifications. Its a challenge that we are very experienced in and really believe we are up for,” claimed Kaplun. “Experience in any way, shape or form is going to be a competitive advantage for Lockheed.”
How do you choose the design for the 3D printed parts?
“We have produced many different parts for our customers that almost have an organic shape to them and so if you look at some of the new designs where you are optimizing for strength in terms of weight and producibility, you will observe that they mimic the bones in your arm like a very evolved and efficient method of support. If we look at some of the structural brackets that we have done, they almost have a tree or a skeletal structure look to them, that is a very unique mindset or would have been a unique mindset when we were looking at the substractive and traditional manufacturing. But now that people are being trained for AM, we notice that there are a lot more technically complex designs. Some of the ESD parts that we made for Orion would be virtually imposible ot make any other way,” revealed Kaplun. “Now, we are able to combine a large number of other parts into one piece and eliminate a lot of the fasteners and the weight that otherwise would have been a parasitic load, providing greater opportunities to put payloads and scienitic instruments onto our platforms.”
In what way does 3D printing drive down spacecraft costs?
“We try for a really ambitious cost reduction, aiming at 50%. Over the last year, we printed roughly 6,500 parts across our entire space division. Recently we even used AM technology to develop mockups for tests, such as the toilet that will be used on Orion, called the UWMS,” proposed Sipe. “We were concerned about one area of interference so we printed the entire mockup of the toilet and put it into the flight vehicle to verify that we could reach and access the bolts. The size of that toilet is probably two feet in diameter and three feet tall, so it was a very large piece to produce.”
How does Lockheed factor in sustainability when 3D printing its pieces?
Kaplun indicated that at Lockheed, engineers are “very proud of how sustainable our technology is. Our polymer builds can be recycled and reused if needed, the powder bed processes are extremely efficient and the industry as a whole is considered very sustainable and cost-efficient from a materials perspective. Some of the waste for our additive processes can be lower than five percent. When you compare that to some of the subtractive and traditional manufacturing applications, those numbers flip completely, producing 90% waste.”
Would you be able to convey how many AM parts were used for Orion?
“We made 200 components for the Artemis II Orion spacecraft. While the Artemis I had over 100 printed pieces and the previous version had only four 3D printed parts. This reveals that only one spacecraft generation later, we were able to double the amount of 3D printed parts,” reported Sipe.
What can we expect to see during the Artemis II mission scheduled for late 2020?
“Our next mission will launch Orion on a Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which will be the largest rocket ever built as far as liftoff power. Next year we can expect an unmaned service module to travel to the lunar orbit where it will stay for a month, carry out significant checkouts of all of our modules and will be the first launch on the new rocket. Once it returns to Earth, we will recover it, take it apart, see what we can reuse, what we need to make some improvements on, and at the same time, we’ll be getting ready for our Artemis II mission, with the first astronauts flying on 2022. Then, Artemis III in 2024, will take astronauts to Gateway, a small space station in the lunar orbit, and from there to a human landing system that will put the first woman and next man on the Moon surface. This will be the first of many missions to the Moon’s south pole, where bases and moon mining will begin,” said Sipe.
Are there more engineers interested in AM technology applications?
According to Kaplun, there has been much interest in AM: “we are witnessing a lot of students and scholars contributing to the design space, coming into our engineering and production ranks with a lot of previous work in the field, with new ideas and new abilities to utilize the tools that we can now offer.”
As an engineer, how do you change your mindset to produce something from a subtractive standpoint to an additive one?
“We are starting to corrupt the threshold as we are beginning to design parts that can only be made via the additive route, whereby in the past we would sort of take something that was designed for a normal conventional machine and then transition it to the additive world,” told Sipe. “Today we are generating designs that we know the only way they can be made is through AM. There are certain parts of the spacecraft that couldn’t be done with other technologies, such as hollow, organically grown on the printer parts that create new opportunities for us.”
What 3D printing technologies are being used at Lockheed?
“We have a very large gamut of different types of technologies to make the 3D printed parts for Orion, the docking hedge covers were made on Stratasys FDM printers, but we also use a lot of metal powder bed technologies in various forms as well as different polymer technologies,” the experts proposed.
So what lays ahead for the aerospace company?
“We just got into a long term production contract with NASA for the six upcoming spacecraft missions, so I believe it is our goal to make even more 3D printed parts for spacecraft. A big focus of the contract was to dramatically reduce per-vehicle costs and the major ways of doing that was by having reusable Orion crew modules and systems, using advanced manufacturing technologies, material and component bulk buys and an accelerated mission cadence. I consider that AM is a large part of reducing the cost and increasing the cadence of how often we fly,” enlightened Kaplun.
Both Kaplun and Sipe consider that the “Orion spacecraft is part of NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration.”
With work well underway on both the Artemis I and II rockets, with core stage assembly nearly complete at Michoud, Orion will leave Lockheed for testing at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, in Mississippi.
Sipe concluded that: “In 1981, NASA wanted to move back into deep space so since 1981 we were flying the space shuttle, and physically could not go outside the Earth’s orbit, the Apollo was the last spacecraft that physically could leave the gravity of the Earth and move into deep space, and NASA had a desire for mankind to return. Orion is the only spacecraft development that is a true exploration class spacecraft. It’s not like any other, it has unique capabilities never before seen and even though the capsule is a heritage of the Apollo mission, its actually far superior.”
Creating innovative tools and high-tech systems for life science researchers around the globe has turned up some fascinating new companies in the last few years; and with Europe currently housing over 35% of biotechnology companies worldwide, we can expect some enticing new discoveries to come. Sweden is certainly not lagging behind, with a buoyant environment for university researchers and students, as well as being known as one of the so-called ‘ideal’ places to hatch startups, one company is quickly breaking new ground. Founded in 2012 as a spin-off from Chalmers University of Technology, Fluicell is a publicly-traded biotech company providing platforms to investigate cell behavior like never before. Using open-volume microfluidics, they wanr to revolutionize how cells are bioprinted.
As a further development to their existing product portfolio, the company has developed a unique high-resolution bioprinting technology in both 2D and 3D called Biopixlar, capable of creating complex tissue-like structures where positioning of individual cells can be controlled from a gamepad, just like you would a videogame. Their original approach is part of a more market-oriented strategy, which brings revolutionary technology straight to the fingertips of users. To get a better sense of what the company is trying to accomplish, 3DPrint.com spoke to Victoire Viannay, Fluicell’s CEO since 2017.
“Since microfluidics is so complex we are trying to create very easy to use platforms for our clients in the life sciences. Our original idea with the Biopixlar was: how to make the system easy to use and fun? So now you can see that we have even incorporated the gamepad, which is a way of creating an easy to use interface,” said Viannay.
Biopixlar uses microfluidics which allows for better control of the material at a micro level due to the precision of a pump or microfluidic tube when it comes to directing the flow of biomaterial to actual printing execution. Having such a precise control at the microlevel, systems naturally scale up to the macrolevel and result in high-resolution prints. Additionally, the technology allows the creation of multi-material prints for bioprinting purposes, with users being able to create the materials within the printer technology itself, avoiding the need for laboratory fabrication of the material. A microfluidic chamber can control the mixing of various materials in house. Resulting in a 3D printed structure that is immediately complete without having to deal with gels or scaffolds.
“We want to be as true as possible to the science, so it is important for us to protect the landscape, and for that we have a good internal team for harnessing and developing knowledge, knowing that we need to have both invention and method patents.”
Fluicell currently has three products on the market, and are now looking actively for partners for the Biopixlar in both Europe and the United States. The research tools Biopen and Dynaflow, allow researchers to investigate the effects of drugs on individual cells at a unique level of detail, as part of their mission to redefine the approach to cell biology, and drug discovery by providing miniaturized instrumentation for single-cell investigations. The company holds a strong IP and patent position with four approved patents in the estate.
Since 2012, the company has moved from Chalmers and established their own laboratories just a few minutes away from the campus, in Gothenburg. There they have commercialized a product portfolio to study single cells, (primarily in the field of drug development), gone public, and launched Biopixlar. Funded by Almi Invest, a local early-stage investor, their aim now is to keep providing innovative tools redefining approaches within cell biology, bioprinting, and secondary drug screening and discovery.
“When the company was created we started at Chalmers, but at some point we thought we had to become more independent from the university, so we came up with our own facilities and discovery team, people who work on tissue and disease models in house so that we can do primary research ourselves and the discovery aspects as a way of helping potential clients discover applications which could benefit their needs. We have this both as a demonstration, and also as a contract research organization (CRO) service.”
With 20 employees, the company is looking to become the next Swedish bioprinting success, after another company born out of the same city as Fluicell, began selling their popular bioprinters and bioinks, that’s Erik Gatenholm’s CELLINK, now a global big player in biotech. Actually, Viannay claims that Sweden is a great country to start a company, just behind the captivating and successful landscape in the United States.
“Sweden is very supportive of new companies. The whole country is built upon innovation, proving that its people were never afraid to try out new things, so it should be the same with bioprinting. Right now there is a very good landscape to work on our projects and i really think that Sweden is ready to support more bioprinting initiatives,” suggested Viannay, who is originally French and moved to Sweden after meeting her husband. She has proved to be a great match for the company because of her strong background in law. With a PhD in the field from the Université Paris II Panthéon/Assas and over more than 10 years of experience in labor laws, human resources and legal management, particularly in the field of scientific research, her incorporation came in at just the right time. Her knowledge came in handy during the company’s IPO in early 2018.
“Fluicell has a good growth model based on market penetration, acquiring new geographic areas and expansion and market diversification. So it has worked very well for us while growing the company, next we would be interested in being a profitable company that is very well recognized in the world thanks to our products, which began with the Biopen, and had great traction among our customers. For our Biopixlar technology we would like to further target other areas, such as regenerative medicine, moving towards building tissues and taking it outside of pure research and development by using it to develop something that can go into regenerative or therapeutic medicine.”
[Image credit: Fluicell]
Formnext, held from November 19-22 in Frankfurt, yielded a wealth of information about new products in the 3D printing world. This included the latest from dp polar GmbH, with added support by ALTANA, a specialty chemicals group headquartered in Wesel, Germany, upon the unveiling of the AMpolar ® i2 3D printer.
This new 3D printing system offers a continuously rotating platform, resulting in high-precision parts produced up to 20 times faster—and in higher volume—in comparison to technology where the printhead moves instead. The AMpolar ® i2 features a build volume of 700 liters, which dp polar GmbH states is the largest build area for a 3D printer being used in the material jetting realm. The release of this printer will allow industrial users to move forward to the manufacturing of functional components rather than just rapid prototyping.
The AMpolar ® i2 3D printer allows users to enjoy a varying range of materials simultaneously via multi-material jetting, uninterrupted—and is suitable for applications like electronics and assembly and ‘pick and place’ robotics.
“Our 3D production machine AMpolar® i2 currently has the largest build area and the largest installation space in the field of material jetting,” says Dr. Florian Löbermann, Managing Director of dp polar GmbH. “Combined with ALTANA’s know-how in material development, we are bringing a 3D printing solution to market that will give customers from a wide variety of sectors, including the automotive, aerospace, and medical technology industries, completely new possibilities for manufacturing their products.”
This also means that exponentially more users will be able to benefit from 3D printing and additive manufacturing. While savings is sometimes not realized immediately for those investing in expansive AM technology, hardware like the AMpolar ® i2 3D printer means that 3D printed medical devices like orthotics and prostheses, for example, can be created much more affordably and rapidly—also leaving the door open for easier customization as new iterations of designs are quickly formed and printed.
3D printing offers new levels of comfort—especially important for children who may have suffered through arduous fittings when using conventional methods—only to find out that they had nearly outgrown devices once they were delivered.
A 3D printed device can be easily adjusted for a new size, color, or even a different style, and takes just a fraction of the time to make, as we have seen in previous stories outlining new improvements by US researchers, optimization with simulators, new design software, and much more.
“The extremely close cooperation between mechanical engineering, machine development, and material development makes it possible to develop individual solutions for our customers and their specific requirements,” says Dr. Petra Severit, Chief Technology Officer of ALTANA AG. “In material development, we are focusing on our core competencies and at the same time expanding the application spectrum of our solutions in the highly innovative field of 3D printing.”
Discuss this article and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com.
[Source / Images: dp polar & ALTANA press release]
Five years ago a quality SLA resin printer could cost thousands dollars, but today, as the technology has gotten better and more mature, you can easily find one for less than $500.
Now with the help of MSLA technology-mask stereolithography, Nova3d launches its version for just $359. It’s an affordable desktop MSLA 3D printer and yet still delivers great results.
You may have lots of choice on resin 3D printers but Nova3d is among the easiest to use. Straight out of the box, Elfin is ready to use. It’s pre-leveled in the factory and requires no re-calibration upon first use. Just pour the resin, load the sliced file and press print, no parts to be put together; that makes it super easy for beginners.
The Elfin resin printer features a decent size build volume of 130*70*150mm. It can print with a layer resolution of 0.025mm. It weights 7.3kg (16 pounds approximately).
The machine itself is sturdy, featuring a top-fastened Z-axis rod to make the Z-axis extra stable and eliminate any vibrations and make it get a smoother surface on its print. The Elfin is also equipped with 2K resolution LCD screen (1440 x 2560 pixels) offering XY-axis precision of 0.05 mm. Its max printing speed is up to 50mm/hour, although accuracy is best at slightly slower speeds. With a capacitive touch screen, it’s easy to navigate the menu and operate the printer.
While there are other resin printers on the market, the Nova3d Elfin differentiates itself with a WiFi feature, so you can load your sliced file from your computer directly to the printer, see the printing process as it unfolds and control it wirelessly. You can also sync one computer to several Elfin 3D printers. And, there’s also an ethernet port for Elfin so you can also hard-wire the Elfin printer to your computer.
For further ease and range of use, you can also plug a USB stick into the Elfin and select the file you’d like to print. With an internal 8G memory, popping the stick out during the printing won’t stop the printing, so you don’t have to leave the USB stick there while it prints, unlike with many other printers.
The Elfin’s slicer features auto-layout, adding support manually, magnifying and making the model smaller and you also can modify the UV exposure settings in the slicer. When slicing, it’s quick to do so and very easy to use.
Maintenance is easy enough with the Elfin, including items such as changing consumables, 2K screen replacement, and FEP. Elfin’s FEP is bonded with a plastic frame; compared with a printer that uses a metal frame, the Elfin’s FEP tightening is easier. For the 2K screen, removing the metal panel then disconnecting the cable to the main board is easy and intuitive.
Best of all, during Nov.16th to Nov.25th it’s priced at just $299 with the code NOVA3DELFIN on Nova3d US Amazon store.
Learn more about the Nova3D Elfin MSLA 3D printer.