Mar 17, 2016 | By Alec

Just like the other branches of the US military, the Navy has been particularly interested in what metal 3D printing can do for them. In particular, they have been interested in getting 3D printers on board of warships with an eye on emergency repairs; In 2014, a metal 3D printer was installed on the USS Essex, with two more metal 3D printing experiments launching on board the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman and the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge a few months ago. But they are clearly also recognizing 3D printing as a legitimate manufacturing technology for their weaponry, as they have just granted a contract to Oregon-based Metal Technology (MTI) to develop and demonstrate 3D printing techniques for missile propulsion components.

Metal Technology is, of course, a provider of metal manufacturing solutions that frequently work with 3D printing. Founded back in 1971 in Albany, Oregon, MTI specializes in reactive, refractory and high temperature metals. They work with a variety of other manufacturing techniques as well, including deep-draw, spinning, forging, machining, and EDM, depending on the situation and the materials used. Just a few months ago, they announced they would be working with NASA to develop 3D printed rocket engine components.

This newest collaboration can probably be seen in a similar light. Specifically, they will be developing and demonstrating viable 3D printing aerospace techniques for the low-cost production of refractory metal components, which will be used on the Navy’s propulsion system for the Trident D5 missile system. This is a submarine-launched ballistic missile system (SLBM) that is a key part of the US strategic nuclear triad. First deployed back in 1990 after development by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, it is expected to stay in service until 2042.

However, the current production techniques for the refractory metal components of the propulsion system are very labor intensive and complex. Through this contract (a Small Business Innovation Research or SBIR contract), MTI will now be working to reduce the costs and complexity of that method. 3D printing, they believe, is a key tool in significantly reducing that complexity and lead-time, as well as the costs involved.

According to Gary Cosmer, MTI’sChief Executive Officer for Metal Technology, they will be using a number of refractory metals and alloys to do so. “Phase one of this project is to develop processes and demonstrate the fabrication of simplified, subscale articles using C103 Niobium alloy and provide approaches for fabrication of additional refractory metals/alloys including Molybdenum and Tantalum,” he revealed.

Jason Stitzel, the Director Of Engineering for MTI, further revealed that the propulsion systems came with very complex requirements for the 3D printed parts. “Key performance requirements for the additively manufactured refractory articles include surviving exposure to greater than 3,200 degree Fahrenheit gaseous environment for 10 minutes at 550 psi, and achieving mechanical properties that meet or exceed the properties derived from traditional processing methods,” he said.

However, they are confident of their abilities. “We are excited to be part of this very important project and look forward to leveraging our experience working with these materials for over forty years combined with our experience with additive manufacturing to develop some truly innovative solutions,” Cosmer concluded.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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