July 6, 2014

University of Arizona students created and successfully launched a rocket made up with several 3D printed parts. 3D printing has been used to create circuit mounts, electronic housing boxes, booster fins, aft body structure and tailcone to improve the functionality of the rocket.

At the beginning the team worried about the high cost of 3D printed components it might occur because they had a very small budget. They were then encouraged by their advisors from Raytheon to work with 3D printing company Solid Concepts.

Solid Concepts showed them that the costs associated with the components they wanted to 3D print were not as high as they originally expected. And the parts they designed and had 3D printed saved them countless hours in construction.

With 3D printing you can often manufacture several parts as one piece. Team member, U of A student Matthew Dusard, said, "The fin structure alone, which was created via Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) with high temperature Ultem 9085 material, would have taken seven individual pieces and three days to assemble had we constructed it manually. Due to the cavities inside and the very thin fins in our design, 3D printing was the only way to create the structure as one piece. We wrapped all 3D printed components in carbon fiber for extra strength, slid the pieces into the aft end of the rocket and were ready to go a day after receiving the pieces, just in time to launch on our targeted date."

This 3D printed fin structure reduced construction time by two days

In addition, according to the team, the design they produced via 3D printing reduced drag and increased efficiency by 85% compared to a rounded flat plate. 3D printing allows them to create reduced thickness in the fins and intricate curvature ensure its function. It would have been impossible to manufacture this system without additive manufacturing, Dusard said.

3D printing has also helped the team to access the flight computers within the rocket to fix parachute deployment problems. To ensure the rocket had a safe return it was critical the rocket's parachutes deploy at certain points during flight/ descent. But to fix the parachute deployment problems occured sometimes, they had to disassemble the rocket to access the computers. Dusard has learned 3D printing and had experience creating circuit cards in his internship, he suggested to 3D print circuit mounts for the project. With the 3D printed mounts they could easily pull the electronics in and out of the side of the rocket and it shortened repair times if the electronics were malfunctioning.

"From the time gained by 3D printing complex assemblies as single pieces, to the ease of use created by novel electronic mounting methods, our innovative ideas came to reality because of 3D printing." Dusard concluded.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications

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