Following a series of successful trials printing various large-scale rocket components over a number of months, Orbex, a UK-based company has signed a multi-million pound deal with AMCM GmbH. The announcement follows a funding round of $24 million secured by the British company to ensure high technology employment opportunities and large-scale production facilities in the Highlands region of Scotland – Orbex especially plans to expand its factory floor space by an additional 1,000 m².
As part of this agreement, the Germany-based manufacturer of additive manufacturing customized machines will build the largest industrial 3D printer we’ve ever seen in Europe.
Indeed, machine’ size is pivotal to support Orbex’ ambitions to produce over 35 large-scale rocket engine and main stage turbopump systems annually, as it continuously scales up its production capabilities for launches.
“Although our rocket engines and other critical systems are already quite mature after years of testing, a large-scale in-house 3D printing system like this gives us far greater speed and agility as we ramp up production,” said Chris Larmour, CEO of Orbex. “It means we can continue to iterate and drive up performance even further. Longer term, as we get ready for multiple launches per year, it will give us greater control over our costs and supply chain. After exhaustive trials, the results we’ve seen from AMCM were very successful and we’re confident that we’ve made the right choice of partner.”
As we saw in the latest 3D ADEPT Mag (Interview segment pp- 27-29 – January/February issue 2021), AMCM is an EOS company that is building a strong reputation in the customization of its parent company’s machines. The company helps its customers achieve its goal by focusing on applications.
As a matter of fact, it is no stranger to the needs of the space industry. Its latest collaboration with space start-up Launcher led to the production of a 3D printed Launcher E-2 engine used on the first stage of the orbital launch vehicle to deliver small satellites to orbit.
In Orbex’ case, the industrial 3D printer that AMCM Gmbh will develop, will produce rocket parts using a custom blend of metals including titanium and aluminium, the ultimate goal being to create a lightweight system designed to withstand the temperature and pressure extremes of spaceflight. To ensure that all things go smoothly in the manufacturing process, AMCM GmbH will also deliver a complete printing suite with post-processing machinery and ‘Machine Vision’ systems, as well as automatic imaging-based inspection of printed components.
According to the UK-based space expert, by printing rocket engines as single component, one removes the weaknesses that may occur from joining and welding. Furthermore, Orbex’s launch vehicle would be a 19-metre long “microlauncher” rocket, which emphasizes the crucial role of 3D printed parts to deliver small satellites into polar orbits around the Earth.
“Investing in a large-scale 3D printing system like this says a lot about Orbex’s ambition in the European spaceflight sector,” said Martin Bullemer, MD of AMCM. “If they are to lead the European market, they need the production reliability and speed that a large-scale 3D printing system like this will give them. And although this is a major purchase, it will allow for significant cost control for Orbex in the years to come.”
The A’Mhoine site is currently the only UK spaceport to receive planning permission, with construction expected to begin in 2021 and the first orbital launch expected in 2022.
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