Stratasys-owned rapid prototyping firm RedEye on Wednesday released details of a recent partnership with Lockheed Martin's Space Systems Company.
RedEye's Fused Deposition Modeling technology successfully printed two fuel tank simulators for a satellite form, fit and function validation test – marking a milestone as some of the largest 3D printed parts RedEye has ever built.
The biggest tank measured 15 feet long and was built in 10 different pieces using polycarbonate material. The parts were so large that custom fixtures were needed to support them as the materials bonded together.
Combined, the fuel tanks took nearly two weeks to print, taking roughly 150 hours per section. Once all of the pieces were machined, the final assembly required 240 hours.
According to Joel Smith, strategic account manager for aerospace and defense at RedEye:
These are the largest parts we've ever built using FDM. We completed an extensive design review to determine the best orientation and slice height to ensure we could accurately build and bond the sections together in post processing and meet Lockheed's dimensional requirements.
RedEye said the tanks were built in a fraction of the time it would have taken with traditional manufacturing methods, even with the machining process and design changes made along the way.
As for Lockheed, the company said it will take lessons learned from the first phase and use the information to optimize the design and assembly to print the second iteration of tanks.
Here's a quick video showing the printing process: