Orbex starts 3D Printing of Monobody Rocket Engines at its new Production Facility

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3D Printing of Monobody Rocket Engines
Above: AMCM M4K 3D printer at the new Orbex facility/Image Source: Orbex

Orbex, the UK-based spaceflight company, announced the inauguration of its new large scale rocket engine production facility. It also revealed that the new custom-made AMCM M4K 3D printer is printing full scale monobody rocket engines and turbopumps in-house at the facility.

AMCM M4K 3D printer, which has a very large z-axis, is currently the largest high precision metal 3D printer available in Europe, and Orbex operates the only one in the European space sector, which allows it to build one of the world’s largest monobody rocket engines.

The very large print volume allows us to print our full main stage rocket engines in a single print run. This means we don’t need to join smaller sections with welds, bolts or flanges, eliminating the need for any unreliable hot joints, avoiding outdated and error-prone additional processing steps, reducing mass and fully automating production.

3D Printing of Monobody Rocket Engines

M4K-4 Metal 3D Printer
Above: The AMCM M4K-4 Laser-powered Metal 3D Printer/Image Source: AMCM GmbH

TheAMCM M4K 3D printer offers a very fast, accurate 3D printing system, with a resolution of 40 microns, and the rapid ability to change materials for different applications. To enhance this Orbex has specified the four-laser system, which allows it to print much more quickly than single-laser systems, enabling the rapid iteration of designs.

Orbex can now produce a full main stage rocket engine in just a few days. Once the print is started, the print takes a few days of continuous printing and the monobody rocket engine emerge from the powder bed – complete, in a single piece, with no need for any welding or risky segment joining.

Orbex has worked closely with their supplier and partner AMCM over the part 2-3 years to get a custom-made 3D printer to build a capability where the team can simply push a button and produce a large, new rocket engine. The partnership has helped Orbex develop a design and manufacturing process that ensures the quality and symmetry of our rocket engines, such that each one now comes out of the printer perfectly formed.

According to a spokesperson of Orbex, “Because of the scale and mass of the components we are producing this is quite a technically challenging process, and there are many innovative steps – so we will keep that part of the production toolchain a secret for now.”

Orbex has also installed a new de-powdering facility to automate how the un-sintered superalloy powders are removed from the engine parts after production, using a large machine from Solukon – the enormous SFM-AT1000-S.

This machine further simplifies the engine production line by automating the removal of unused powder from within the finished chambers before they are passed on for non-destructive inspection and finishing.

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