Relativity Space has announced a strategic alliance with 6K, a developer of microwave plasma technology for powder production, to 3D print rocket components made from sustainable materials. The partnership will establish a closed loop supply chain through which scrap materials produced by Relativity will be transformed into premium AM powders by 6K and redeployed to Relativity for production. The companies will also work together to develop new materials for rocket manufacturing and space applications.
“Relativity is completely reimagining the aerospace supply chain, by creating an autonomous robotic factory that can additively manufacture a rocket in 60 days,” said Tim Ellis, CEO of Relativity. “This partnering with 6K will add another important element to our very unique approach: the ability to reuse materials. We are looking forward to working with 6K to add this sustainability to our supply chain, while ensuring closed loop traceability all the way through.”
6K (formerly Amastan) has brought to market a unique and proprietary technology, UniMelt, that is capable of transforming scraps of metal into premium AM-grade powders. Last week, the company announced that it had commissioned the first two commercial UniMelt systems for the production of metal powders – the systems are reportedly capable of producing 100 tons of powder per year.
By leveraging 6K’s cyclical powder production technology, Relativity hopes to improve its own sustainability practices by effectively reusing metal waste to produce 3D printed parts. Relativity, which moved into a larger facility in February 2020, utilizes large-scale metal 3D printing to produce its Terran 1 rocket.
“Relativity is pushing the boundaries of additive manufacturing by 3D printing a complete rocket and we see this partnership as a natural extension of their forward thinking practice,” commented Dr. Aaron Bent, CEO of 6K. “Our ability to turn their used powder and parts into premium powder through the UniMelt process provides them with a sustainable source for AM powder. We are proud to be partnering with Relativity to explore ways to increase sustainability, recycling and environmentally responsible manufacturing processes, which the entire AM industry is uniquely posed to be able to integrate into standard practices.”
As part of the joint mission to create a sustainable closed loop supply chain for AM powders, the companies have laid out a three-phase approach, starting from a proof of concept and ending with a Relativity 3D printed part. The plan will prove the process of transforming Relativity’s scrap metal into fresh AM powder using 6K’s UniMelt process, while ensuring that the powder meets Relativity’s (and the space industry’s) production standards. In the long run, using 6K’s technology will enable Relativity to maintain complete line of sight and control over its supply chain for metal AM powders.
Both 6K and Relativity Space see the partnership as a good way to move the space industry and additive manufacturing technologies towards a more sustainable future. 6K’s unique process can increase the ecological footprint of AM by reducing or even eliminating wasted metal and using it to create new high quality powders – a real circular economy.