RedEye, the service bureau wing of Stratasys, recently partnered up with Lockheed Martin and it's Space Systems Company to 3D print two large fuel tank simulators for a satellite form, fit and function validation test and process development.
The biggest tank measured 15 feet long, and that makes the output of the project one of the single largest 3D printed parts RedEye has ever built.
Using RedEye's Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology, the teams worked to develop the fuel tanks on a tight time frame and at about half the cost of machining the parts.
The larger tank, built in 10 separate pieces, and the smaller tank, built in 6 different pieces, used polycarbonate material and both fuel tanks took a combined two weeks to print. That breaks down to roughly 150 hours per section, and based on the sheer size of the parts, customized fixtures were required to support the structures as they were bonded together and shipped. Once on site, they were machined to meet final specifications and the final assembly of the pair took 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 3D printed parts ever built. 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 3D printing," said Joel Smith, strategic account manager for aerospace and defense at RedEye.
Lockheed Martin first came to RedEye in 2012 to investigate the design benefits of additive manufacturing, and since then, LM has invested in 3D printers of their own purchased 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 and both organizations say they expect to partner on more 3D printing projects later this year.