AerospaceMetal Additive ManufacturingPost-Processing

Solukon SFM-AT1000-S depowdering system acquired by Launcher

Used for the postprocessing of additively manufactured rocket parts

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American aerospace company Launcher has chosen Solukon as its preferred supplier for powder removal systems. Within the scope of the partnership, Launcher will utilize Solukon’s machine, the SFM-AT1000-S, for the postprocessing of extraordinarily large and heavy rocket parts. Solukon’s depowdering system offers fast and efficient removal of metal powder for applications of up to 1,000 mm height.

The postprocessing of components in the additive manufacturing process is a significant step. Due to complex geometric shapes and, for example, internal cooling channels or internal structures, depowdering can become complicated and time-consuming. In addition, users are faced with challenges such as risks including explosion, labor costs, powder recovery, cleaning quality, and process repeatability. Copper, the material of choice at Launcher due to its high conductivity and efficient cooling, poses a particular depowdering challenge as copper powder residues tend to clog in cavities and show a sticky behavior. In addition, manual cleaning obviously reaches its limits when it comes to rocket parts with a height up to 1,000 mm weighing several hundred kilograms.

Solukon SFM-AT1000-S depowdering system acquired by Launcher. Used for the postprocessing of additively manufactured rocket parts.
The SFM-AT1000-S handles large parts weighing up to 800 kg

Solukon tackles these issues with its unique SPR technology (Smart Powder Recuperation). The SFM depowdering systems remove residual and clogged powder from metal laser melted parts within a sealed process chamber, using adjustable vibration and automated two-axis part rotation while recovering superfluous powder. Through programmable rotation of the build plate in two axes, the unfused metal build material is completely removed from complex channels and geometries, meaning a significant increase in efficiency, safety, and quality – all while saving on costs.

Launcher, from now on, relies on the postprocessing knowledge of Solukon. The company acquired the depowdering system SFM-AT1000-S, the unit for extraordinary large parts, to completely free rocket engines and combustion chambers from powder. Launcher, located in Hawthorne, California, is an industry-leading developer of highly efficient rockets and transfer vehicles. The company currently operates a fleet of cutting-edge metal additive platforms and other advanced manufacturing assets from partners including Velo3D, EOS, and AMCM. Today, Launcher produces every major part of its transfer vehicle, Orbiter, and E-2 liquid rocket engine in-house, as part of its strategy to build, test, and iterate as cost-effectively as possible as it develops high-performance rockets and transfer vehicles.

“We’re happy to include the state-of-the-art system for depowdering to our outstanding AM fleet”, said Max Haot, founder and CEO of Launcher. Tim Berry, Launcher’s Head of Manufacturing, adds: “We see that automated powder removal is an essential step in the production process. For final heat treatment and Hot Isostatic Pressing all parts must be free of any powder, a special challenge for large and heavy parts with hard-to-access internal channels. The SFM-AT1000-S will help to further automize our production process as we achieve reliable and repeatable cleaning results. In addition, we benefit from Solukon’s experience and support when optimizing our fast and forward-thinking production lines.”

The one-meter-high Launcher E-2 engine, first time presented in 2019, was made in Germany by AMCM using its specialized M4K printer. With the purchase of the SFM-AT1000-S through Launcher, the wheel has come full circle as this Solukon system was initially developed at the request of AMCM for a depowdering solution for parts exactly from this M4K printer.

Solukon SFM-AT1000-S depowdering system acquired by Launcher. Used for the postprocessing of additively manufactured rocket parts.
Launcher’s E-2 engine combustion chamber

The Solukon SFM-AT1000-S, an advancement of the SFM-AT800-S-system and a special version particularly designed for large and heavy parts, allows to easily move parts with a size up to 600 x 600 x 1.000 mm (XYZ) with a weight up to 800 kg. This makes it the ideal postprocessing system for the Aerospace and Space industry. The SFM-AT1000-S has two endless rotating axes with programmable servo-drives so that it can move the part along any imaginable path. Individual control is also possible by using a joystick to move the component flexibly in any direction at variable speed and to save the movement pattern afterwards. The optional Digital Factory tool enables quality assurance and automation integration of the depowdering process.

“Yet again, it’s an honor to support a leading new space company with our SPR technology. Shortly after the demand for a machine compatible with the AMCM M4K printer came up, we responded directly by developing the SFM-AT1000-S. I’m sure pioneers like Launcher will keep pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in additive manufacturing. Likewise, I’m sure we’ll always stand by their side with the ideal depowdering solution”, said Andreas Hartmann, CEO, and CTO of Solukon.

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Edward Wakefield

Edward is a freelance writer and additive manufacturing enthusiast looking to make AM more accessible and understandable.

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