DM3D and Auburn University partnership boldly goes where few AM projects have gone before

August 25, 2021

The two-ton RS-25 nozzle additively manufactured by DM3D Technology for the Rapid Analysis and Manufacturing Propulsion Technology project (Courtesy Auburn University)

DM3D Technology, Auburn Hills, Michigan, USA, has partnered with Alabama’s Auburn University’s National Center for Additive Manufacturing Excellence (NCAME) on its AM research and development project to improve the performance of liquid rocket engines. Most recently, the company was tasked with additively manufacturing a rocket nozzle liner demonstrator for a large-scale liquid rocket engine and, at approximately 3 m in height, it also had to develop a machine large enough to build it.

DM3D and Auburn’s joint project – Rapid Analysis and Manufacturing Propulsion Technology (RAMPT) – aims to evolve light-weight, large-scale novel AM techniques such as Directed Energy Deposition (DED), the primary technology used by DM3D. RAMPT is funded through the NASA Game Changing Development Program with the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

“Knowing that the technology we’re developing for the RAMPT project could support future exploration missions is extremely gratifying,” stated Bhaskar Dutta, president of DM3D. “Auburn and NASA are very much at the forefront of AM research, and we began working with them around four years ago to print a nozzle that was approximately two feet [60 cm] in size, which seemed large at the time. Now we’re printing one for the RAMPT program that’s five times that height. This is one of the largest rocket engine components ever 3D printed.”

The exact dimensions of the two-ton additively manufactured full-scale RS-25 nozzle liner are 282 cm in height and 244 cm in diameter. The massive part was built over the course of several months – a greater than 50% reduction in processing time compared to traditional manufacturing techniques.

“DM3D’s cutting-edge technology and NCAME’s expertise in materials characterisation and qualification will continue the advancement and infusion of these technologies into future missions, and allow for industry to continue to build upon this development for other new large-scale applications,” commented Nima Shamsaei, NCAME director and Auburn’s technical lead for the RAMPT project.

RAMPT co-principal investigator Paul Gradl, a senior propulsion engineer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, added, “NASA has established these public-private partnerships to advance new approaches, process build volumes, materials, and component demonstrations using additive manufacturing. The goal is to increase the technology readiness level to allow infusion into future NASA missions and commercial space applications.”

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