AddUp technology to help bring metal Additive Manufacturing to space

April 7, 2022

AddUp, Cébazat, France, is part of the Metal3D project which intends to create a point-of-need metal Additive Manufacturing machine for use in space. The project, led by the European Space Agency (ESA), Airbus Defense and Space, and other industrial & academic partners, intends to have parts manufactured on board the International Space Station (ISS) Columbus module by February 2023.

Metal3D was commissioned by the ESA as a technology demonstrator which can enable the characterisation of the mechanical properties of a material shaped in microgravity. To carry out this experiment, two batches of test specimens will be produced by two identical Additive Manufacturing machines. The first batch will be made in Toulouse, France, in terrestrial gravity and the second will be built in space, in microgravity.

To produce these two Additive Manufacturing projects, two identical copies of a metal Additive Manufacturing machine capable of operating in both environments have been designed and produced. The resultant machine will therefore be the first to manufacture metal parts in space.

Project management is provided by the Airbus Defense and Space teams in Toulouse; these aim to ensure the integration of the various components of the Additive Manufacturing machine, the power supply, and the conformity for the space environment. Academic partner Cranfield University oversees the energy source and material delivery mechanism, including laser and stainless-steel wire.

The company Highftech is tasked with the manufacturing of the machine enclosure and integrating the machine’s fluid management, while AddUp makes the internal structure & mechanisms of the machine, the PLC that controls it, and the interface that allows communication with the ground. On the mechanical side, AddUp’s team designed and manufactured the internal structure of the machine, including all moving parts. On the software side, the team developed the machine’s automation programme, which includes functions such as communication with the ground (data transfer, measurements, images & reports, and execution of commands received from Earth).

“AddUp plays an important role in the realisation of this mission, but its involvement in the project goes back to the pre-project phase where the feasibility of the project had to be demonstrated,” stated Alexandre Piaget, R&D engineer at AddUp. “This first part, carried out on the premises in Salon de Provence, built the foundations of what the machine is today. In the final version of the machine, AddUp is in charge of the mobile axes, the structural parts and the software of the machine.”

In the absence of gravity, most current Additive Manufacturing processes are rendered obsolete. This is either because they are not compatible with the space environment (the use of fine powder is dangerous in the space station), or because their implementation is conflicting with microgravity (e.g., Powder Bed Fusion). To make manufacturing in microgravity possible, the partners have chosen to use a process that promotes forces induced by surface tension: wire-based Directed Energy Deposition.

In this process, a laser will be used as the energy source with 316L stainless steel wire as the raw material. The laser and the wire feeding system are fixed in the machine frame and the build table is made movable by three linear axes and one rotary axis. The machine is operated under nitrogen to limit the oxidation of the material and to prevent the risks of combustion. As access to nitrogen is limited in the ISS, the machine’s atmosphere is filtered and cooled throughout the manufacturing process to limit nitrogen consumption and recycle as much as possible of the nitrogen already present in the machine.

A video of the project is available here.

In the latest issue of Metal AM magazine

Download PDF

Extensive AM industry news coverage, as well as the following exclusive deep-dive articles:

  • Metal powders in Additive Manufacturing: An exploration of sustainable production, usage and recycling
  • Inside Wayland Additive: How innovation in electron beam PBF is opening new markets for AM
  • An end-to-end production case study: Leveraging data-driven machine learning and autonomous process control in AM
  • Consolidation, competition, and the cost of certification: Insight from New York’s AM Strategies 2024
  • Scandium’s impact on the Additive Manufacturing of aluminium alloys
  • AM for medical implants: An analysis of the impact of powder reuse in Powder Bed Fusion

The world of metal AM to your inbox

Don't miss any new issue of Metal AM magazine, and get the latest industry news. Sign up to our twice weekly newsletter.

Sign up

Discover our magazine archive…

The free to access Metal Additive Manufacturing magazine archive offers unparalleled insight into the world of metal Additive Manufacturing from a commercial and technological perspective through:

  • Reports on visits to leading metal AM part manufacturers and industry suppliers
  • Articles on technology and application trends
  • Information on materials developments
  • Reviews of key technical presentations from the international conference circuit
  • International industry news

All past issues are available to download as free PDFs or view in your browser.

Browse the archive

Looking for AM machines, metal powders or part manufacturing services?

Discover suppliers of these and more in our comprehensive advertisers’ index and buyer’s guide, available in the back of Metal AM magazine.

  • AM machines
  • Process monitoring & calibration
  • Heat treatment & sintering
  • HIP systems & services
  • Pre- & post-processing technology
  • Powders, powder production and analysis
  • Part manufacturers
  • Consulting, training & market data
View online
Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap