Boeing to Use 3D Printed Parts For Starliner Spacecraft

Boeing to Use 3D Printed Parts For Starliner Spacecraft

The Boeing Company has hired Oxford Performance Materials (OPM), a leading advanced materials and additive manufacturing company, to make 600 3D printed parts for its Starliner spacecrafts.

The world’s largest aerospace company is building three CST-100 Starliner crew capsules under a $4.2 billion NASA contract. It’s scheduled to take off for the first time in June 2018 from Cape Canaveral, and carry its first crew in August 2018.

Larry Varholak, president of Oxford's aerospace business, said the parts will help Boeing lower costs and save weight on each seven-seat capsule, compared with traditional metal and plastic manufacturing. "What really makes it valuable to NASA and Boeing is this material is as strong as aluminum at significantly less weight," he said. Boeing said the weight savings on Oxford's parts is about 60 percent compared with traditional manufacturing.

OPM will announce a $10 million strategic investment from Hexcel Corp, a fellow advanced materials company, as early as today, according to an exclusive report from Reuters, adding to the $15 million Hexcel had already invested in May.

The Boeing deal, along with the funding from Hexcel, further evidence the shift in 3D printing from making prototypes to commercial production of high-grade parts for space ships, aircraft engines and other equipment.

Aerospace already accounts for about 17 percent of 3D printing revenue. Not only does 3D printing allow manufacturers to reduce the overall weight of the components, it also permits quick design and rapid changes of internal features of the components, which would not be possible with traditional manufacturing methods. The global aerospace 3D printing market to grow at a CAGR of 55.85% during the period 2016-2020.

Oxford has already begun shipping parts for the Starliner. Boeing declined to say how much of the capsule Oxford's parts represent.

"It's a significant fraction of the Starliner from the aspects of design, assembly and reliability of high integrity parts," said Leo Christodoulou, director of structures and materials engineering at Boeing. "Using Oxford's materials takes out a lot of cost."

In other news, Boeing, General Electric and others launched a coalition on Thursday to back a House Republican plan to tax all imports, saying the proposal would "support American jobs and American-made products." 

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