Fuel Tank Printed the 3-D Way

CIOL

May 1, 2014

RedEye, by Stratasys, an additive manufacturing service bureau, recently partnered with Lockheed Martin's Space Systems Company (SSC) to 3-D print two large fuel tank simulators for a satellite form, fit and function validation test and process development.

With the biggest tank measuring 15 feet long, the project marks one of the largest 3-D printed parts RedEye has ever built, as it claims.

With RedEye's Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology, the team developed the fuel tanks within a highly condensed time frame and at about half the cost of machining the parts. These rapid prototyping advantages will help Lockheed Martin bring its new design to market faster in a competitive contract bid process.

"With RedEye's machine capacity and engineering support, we were able to successfully build these tank simulators in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost," said Andrew Bushell, senior manufacturing engineer at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company.

The larger tank was built in 10 different pieces and the smaller in six different pieces using polycarbonate (PC) material. Combined, the fuel tanks took nearly two weeks to print, taking roughly 150 hours per section.

Based on the sheer size of the parts, customized fixtures were required to support the structures as they were bonded together and shipped to be machined to meet specifications. Once all of the pieces were machined, the final assembly required 240 hours.

"This project is unique in two ways—it marks the first aerospace fuel tank simulation produced through additive manufacturing and is one of the largest 3-D printed parts ever built," stated Joel Smith, strategic account manager for aerospace and defense at RedEye. "Our ability to accommodate such a large configuration and adapt to design challenges on the fly, demonstrates that there really is no limit to the problem-solving potential when you manufacture with 3-D printing."

Lockheed Martin first embraced the design benefits of additive manufacturing with RedEye in 2012 and has invested in in-house 3-D printers from RedEye's parent company, Stratasys. RedEye has worked with Lockheed Martin on various tooling and additive manufacturing projects that support its Space Systems Company. The organizations are expected to partner on more 3-D printing projects later this year.

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