Riddhi Maharaj is a Materials Engineer at NewSpace Systems. In this interview, we discuss 3D printing with respect to Space components design, product development and Lean engineering.
Can you give a brief introduction of NewSpace Systems?
NewSpace Systems (NSS) is an advanced satellite component manufacturer predominantly focused on the operational SmallSat constellation market. Making use of our 30 plus years of experience in the space industry, our team specializes in high-reliability Attitude Control Systems and services such as contract manufacturing and technology commercialization. To date, our team has worked with nearly 50 customers, across 5 continents, and has a UK subsidiary and 6 international partners/resellers. Additionally, the NewSpace manufacturing capability currently comprises of a unique state-of-the-art facility on the African continent, boasting several ISO 14644-1, class 7, certified cleanrooms and technicians who have been accredited to European Space Agency standards (ECSS), to effectively support our international clients and their demanding missions.
A chemical engineer by training, I obtained my B.Sc Honours in 2013 and an M.Sc in Chemical Engineering in 2016. Currently, I am pursuing an M.Phil in Space Studies, part-time, through the University of Cape Town. While my formal title at NewSpace Systems is that of Materials Engineer, on a day to day basis I’m involved in several R&D projects, one of which was aimed at the development of metal additive manufacturing high-frequency Radio Frequency (RF) components.
From your experience, how important is 3D printing and Additive Manufacturing in product development and Lean Engineering?
3D printing is a constantly developing technology that plays an important role in rapid product development and lean engineering due to the nature of the process. By allowing for rapid prototyping of parts additive manufacturing is a critical stage in lean engineering product development.
Printer pictures MH3
3D printing is a technique that builds objects layer by layer using materials such as polymers, metals, and composites, offering unparalleled manufacturing flexibility. 3D printing relies on CAD software to print products and in so doing drastically reduces the amount of supply chain management. Due to the additive nature of the process, it allows for the manufacture of very complex components with a substantial reduction in manufacturing time, costs and material wastage which are key objectives in the lean engineering approach.
Additionally, AM provides the users with the flexibility to create complex part geometries that are difficult to build using traditional manufacturing methods. Parts can now be manufactured with intricate internal cavities and lattice structures that help reduce parts’ weight without compromising their mechanical performance. Furthermore, AM machines produce less scrap than traditional machines and allow for recycling of the metal powder alloys further reducing material wastage.
One of the major advantages, which further cements the importance of 3D printing in product development and lean engineering, is that 3D printing allows for the fabrications of monolithic parts. In the space industry where mass is a premium,3D printing allows for lighter more efficient products that can also be produced faster. This is a major benefit in space product development given the growing demands of the industry for rapid product R&D and delivery.
What significant role has 3D printing and Additive manufacturing played in NewSpace Systems?
NewSpace Systems as a lean engineering company has increasingly started to utilize 3D printing in our product development in the last couple of years. It is typically used for rapid prototyping of new products during the product development phase to develop marketing ‘mock-ups’ of our products, and to manufacture complex test and product assembly jigs, to ensure that our products meet our stringent quality standards.
Apart from that, NSS is actively involved in the development of a new product line that utilizes laser metal 3D printing in titanium and aluminum to produce high-frequency RF and microwave products. High-frequency RF products are used extensively in satellite communication payloads. These systems are highly complex and are both difficult and expensive to manufacture using traditional methods which also produce very heavy systems. Due to the geometric freedoms offered by metal 3D printing, it allows for extremely light-weight and even more complex and highly efficient RF systems to be manufactured faster. This led to NSS incubating a spin-out company, LambdaG.
LambdaG is a technology company specializing in the design and manufacturing of advanced RF & microwave components. Their primary focus areas are microwave components and innovative antenna systems in space, defense, and aerospace domains. Together with NewSpace Systems (Industry partner), they offer bespoke and custom 3D-printed waveguide components for small satellites. This additive manufacturing solution allows for unparalleled design flexibility. Their primary solutions are, but not limited to antenna systems for Telemetry, tracking and control, payloads, feed chains, diplexers and filters, passive waveguide components and custom sub-assemblies. LambdaG’s goal is to advance RF and microwave connectivity within the space, aerospace and defense domains with the aid of material science and advanced manufacturing. LambdaG is currently developing several requirement-driven RF & microwave products from L- to Ka-band as innovative solutions to the growing satellite communication needs.
Has 3D printing become a key technology in Materials Engineering?
I think 3D printing has become a key technology across a lot of engineering disciplines, not just materials engineering. Through my experience with metal 3D printed materials, I have noticed active R&D in the production of metal alloys and a growing area of interest being metamaterials.