Jan 8, 2016 | By Kira

In yet another high-profile case of how 3D printing is being used to enhance spacecraft manufacturing and design, metal 3D printing company Croft Additive Manufacturing (CAM) has teamed up with the Space division of ESR Technology to research additive manufacturing applications and to develop prototypes for spacecraft components. Specifically, the two organizations aim to develop customized mechanisms that will address the issues surrounding the use of liquid or grease-based lubricants in spacecrafts.

Unlike here at ground-level, in space applications, using liquid or grease-based lubricants in mechanical components presents some significant disadvantages. These include low temperature viscosity, evaporation, loss of lubricant, and contamination of other parts of the spacecraft. In order to address this issue, ESR Space and CAM have pooled their combined expertise to come up with two concept designs.

ESR Space is an arm of ESR Technology, one of the UK’s leading engineering consultancies to the Oil & Gas, Space, Utilities, Transport and Industrial sectors. In particular, ESR Space was created to respond to market demand for the design and assembly of precision vacuum-compatible mechanical components and mechanisms, and their core services include the design, lubrication, assembly and test of mechanical assemblies.

As for CAM, it is a UK company that specializes in metal 3D printing for industrial and low-volume metal components using Selective Laser Metling 3D printing processes. As the sister company of Croft Filters, CAM was previously involved in designing and 3D printing the Straightliner Filter, a specialist filter device that offered significant energy savings when compared with traditional filters, and one that could not have been produced without 3D printing technology.

Using CAM’s ReaLiser SLM-250 metal 3D printer—the first SME-owned machine of its kind in the North West UK—CAM and ESR Space developed two concepts that focus on managing lubricant within the bearing system more effectively, paying extremely close attention to how a space environment would challenge their design and coming up with cutting-edge solutions to address that.

Throughout the prototype-designing process, both organizations came away with valuable lessons and key findings. “It is always advised to have several options when seeking to identify a bespoke solution using innovative technologies,” said Neil Burns, director at Croft Additive Manufacturing. “Following the creation and analysis of the two prototypes in this instance, it was deemed more valuable to develop the lubricant retaining cage further.”

“We learnt a number of valuable lessons during this study, the most important of which was in the design process – while AM technology can give greater design freedom relative to conventional machining, it is not without constraints,” added Grant Munro, project manager at ESR Space.

Neil added that the program has been a “huge success,” having led to the creation of a number of promising technologies which will be pursued for further development. For the next steps for the ‘lubricant retaining cage’ and the other concepts, a roadmap was created that shows timescales for exploration within the space industry and beyond.

The research was funded by the Center for Earth Observation Instrumentation and Space Technology CEOI-ST, and although the 3D printed mechanism component is currently being designed primarily for spacecraft applications, the technology could eventually be used in other industries such as nuclear, aerospace, and medical.

Similarly, the CEOI-ST funded study will also support “the development of supply chain capability in AM (additive manufacturing), and the suitability of the processes in a range of markets, including telecommunications, science and robotics.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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