After receiving a truckload of giant boxes a few weeks ago, Orbex is now operating the new custom-made M4K 3D printer from AMCM Gmbh, which had been commissioned in February 2021. The machine, a modified version of the EOS M400 with a larger build volume, is now printing full-scale monobody rocket engines and turbopumps in-house at Orbex.
Orbex has been manufacturing 3D printed rocket engines and turbopumps since 2018, gradually building up a wealth of knowledge and experience with the technology, process and production systems. This 3D printer, which has a very large z-axis, is one of the largest high precision metal 3D printers available in Europe, and Orbex operates the only one in the European space sector (other such systems are in operation at Morf3D and Launcher in California), which allows the company to build what are probably the world’s largest monobody rocket engines.
The very large print volume of the M4K enabled Orbex to print the full main stage rocket engines and turbopumps in a single print run. This means that the is no need to join smaller sections with welds, bolts or flanges, eliminating any unreliable hot joints, avoiding outdated and error-prone additional processing steps, reducing mass and automating production.
The AMCM M4K offers a very fast, accurate printing system, with a resolution of 40 microns, and the rapid ability to change materials for different applications. To enhance this, Orbex specified the four-laser system, which further accelerates the printing process, enabling the rapid iteration of designs.
In fact, Orbex can produce a full main stage rocket engine in just a few days: the rocket engine emerges from the powder bed – complete, in a single piece, with no need for any welding or risky segment joining.
To get to the point where a large, new rocket engine can be produced at the touch of a button, Orbex worked closely with AMCM over the past 2-3 years to develop a design and manufacturing process that ensures the quality and symmetry of our rocket engines, such that each one now comes out of the printer perfectly formed.
Because of the scale and mass of the components produced by Orbex, this is quite a technically challenging process, and there are many innovative steps. The team also installed a new de-powdering facility to automate how the un-sintered superalloy powders are removed from the engine parts after production, using a large machine from Solukon Maschinenbau GmbH – the enormous SFM-AT1000-S.
This machine further simplifies the engine production line by automating the removal of unused powder from within the finished chambers before they are passed on for non-destructive inspection and finishing.