SLM Solutions says that Orbex has built the world’s largest metal rocket engine in a single piece on its SLM800 selective laser melting machine.
Orbex, a UK based spaceflight company that develops small satellite launch vehicles, introduced the engine – named Prime – at the opening of their new headquarters in Forres, Scotland. The Orbex launcher not only uses 100 per cent renewable fuel to cut carbon emissions by 90 per cent, plus a zero shock staging and payload separation resulting in zero orbital debris, but was also design optimized for selective laser melting, helping to create a structure 30 per cent lighter and 20 per cent more efficient than any other launch vehicle in its category.
Orbex aerospace engineers worked with the applications engineering team at SLM Solutions headquarters in Lübeck, Germany to transfer the design into selective laser melting production – a feat that required the partnership of the equipment provider due to the complexity and size of the component.
Applications specialist Lukas Pankiewicz headed the consulting team inside SLM Solutions to develop a unique set of parameters optimized for this particular geometry. Working closely with the design team at Orbex, Pankiewicz consulted on the various design features and orientation options, while ensuring the part was successfully built within the required material properties and dimensional accuracy.
The SLM800 large-format metal additive manufacturing system features a 280 X 500mm (11 X 19.7 in.) powder bed that can build parts 850mm (33.46 in.) tall, allowing the Prime engine to be built in a special nickel alloy in a single piece.
The SLMHUB unpacking system for the SLM800 integrates contactless powder handling and automated build chamber conveyors to transfer the finished part to an unpacking station designed to remove powder through vibration and rotation. Pankiewicz ensured a powder removal strategy was incorporated into the build with purpose driven delivery channels to be certain as much powder was removed from the build as possible while reducing material loss.
After production, reference samples built together with the engine were analyzed in SLM Solutions’ metallography lab, where porosity level and distribution were proven to meet the quality acceptance criteria. The rapid iteration times inherent to the SLM process allowed Orbex to realize both time and cost reductions – saving 90 per cent in turnaround time and over 50 per cent in costs compared to traditional CNC machining production.