Selective Laser Melting offers a wide range of possibilities in the 3D Printing of metal-based parts. Using a rocket engine, CellCore looks into the possibilities that SLM technology can offer for the aerospace industry. Article by SLM Solutions.
Selective Laser Melting (SLM) offers a wide range of possibilities in the additive manufacturing of metal-based parts. Additive manufacturing allows metal parts to be created with internal structures allowing the part to be stronger and lighter than if it were produced through traditional manufacturing methods. A further advantage is in the integration of several components in one component. This functional integration and a low post-processing effort lead to considerable cost savings in the manufacturing process.
Using a rocket engine, the company CellCore has demonstrated the advantages of selective laser melting and how it can be optimally utilised in the aerospace industry. Printed in a nickel-based superalloy, a monolithic component was created in collaboration with SLM Solutions.
3D-printed Rocket Engine
The demonstrator manufactured by CellCore and SLM Solutions consists of a thrust chamber, the core element of a liquid-propellant engine with a combustion chamber wall, a fuel inlet, and an injection head with oxidant inlet. The chemical reaction in the combustion chamber creates a gas that expands due to heat development and is then ejected with enormous force. The thrust required to drive the rocket is therefore created using recoil. Extremely high temperatures are created in the chamber during the combustion process, so the wall must be cooled to prevent it from burning, too. To achieve this, the liquid fuel (e.g. kerosene or hydrogen) is fed upwards through cooling ducts in the combustion chamber wall before entering through the injection head. There, the fuel mixes with the oxidant and is lit by a spark plug. In conventional constructions, the cooling ducts are countersunk in a blank and subsequently sealed through multiple working steps.
With selective laser melting, the cooling is integrated as part of the design and created together with the chamber in one process. Due to the engine‘s complexity, the traditional manufacturing process is cost-intensive, requiring half a year minimum. Additive manufacturing on the other hand, requires fewer than five working days to create an improved component.
Filigree Structural Cooling to Increase Efficiency
The single-piece rocket propulsion engine, combining the injector and thrust chamber, reduces numerous individual components into one, with multi-functional lightweight construction achievable only with the selective laser melting process.
The internal structure developed by CellCore is the fundamental element of the engine and cannot be manufactured by traditional methods. It is not only suited to transport heat, but also improves the structural stability of the component. The cooling properties of the CellCore design considerably outperform conventional approaches, such as right-angled, concentrically running cooling ducts.
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