Feb 3, 2017 | By Julia

Boeing Co and Oxford Performance Materials are already blasting off with their Starliner partnership. Earlier this month, Boeing contracted Oxford, a leading player in high performance additive manufacturing (HPAM), to make 600 3D printed parts for Boeing’s new Starliner space taxis. Now, the privately held additive manufacturing company has just secured an additional strategic investment of $10 million from the Hexcel Corporation.

The sizeable new investment comes in addition to the $15 million already invested by Hexcel in May 2016, and will raise Hexcel’s equity stake to 16.1 per cent.

a 3D printed air revitalization system duct, to be used aboard Boeing's Starliner

More than just money in Oxford’s pockets, the news suggests that both Boeing and Hexcel are confident that 3D printed plastic has advanced to the point of flawless performance in space travel. That means being able to withstand the extreme stress of rocket launches and the sub-zero temperatures of outer space. In other words, the Boeing deal and Hexcel funding show that 3D printed plastic is making the jump from prototyping to commercial production of high-grade parts for space ships and other advanced equipment.

an Oxford technician with an EOS 3D printer unit building thermoplastic

Oxford’s parts will make Boeing’s seven-seat capsule significantly cheaper and lighter than if made with traditionally manufactured metal and plastic. “What really makes it valuable to NASA and Boeing is this material is as strong as aluminum at significantly less weight," President of Oxford’s aerospace business Larry Varholak notes. Boeing reported that Oxford’s parts will reduce overall weight by about 60 percent compared with traditional manufacturing.

Oxford’s HPAM components will go towards Boeing’s three Starlinger capsules, contracted under a $4.2 billion NASA contract. No word yet on how much of the capsules Oxford’s parts will make up, but we do know that Oxford has already shipped the parts for the Starliners.

"It's a significant fraction of the Starliner from the aspects of design, assembly and reliability of high integrity parts," said Leo Christodoulou, director of structures and materials engineering at Boeing. "Using Oxford's materials takes out a lot of cost."

Oxford's EOS 3D printer units will make 300 3D printed parts for Boeing's Starliner taxis

The plastic is an extremely high performing thermoplastic known as poly-ether-ketone-ketone (PEKK). Since 2000, Oxford has devoted itself to perfecting and commercializing the material, with applications in the aerospace, biomedical, and defense industries. Through initiatives with NASA, Northrop Grumman Corp and America Makes, Oxford has successfully demonstrated that 3D printed PEKK can withstand temperatures from minus 300 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

And with its new Boeing contract, the HPAM giant will have its largest demonstration yet. The Starliner is set to launch in June 2018 from Cape Canaveral, and carry its first crew in August 2018. It will blast off on an Atlas V rocket provided by United Launch Alliance, a Boeing-affiliated venture.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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