Launcher acquires Solukon system for depowdering large rocket parts

April 4, 2022

Launcher has added an SFM-AT1000-S powder removal system from Solukon for the post-processing of large rocket parts (Courtesy Solukon Maschinenbau GmbH)

Solukon Maschinenbau GmbH, Augsburg, Germany, reports that Launcher, headquartered in Hawthorne, California, USA, has acquired Solukon’s SFM-AT1000-S powder removal system for the post-processing of large and heavy rocket parts. The depowdering system offers fast and efficient removal of metal powder for applications of up to 1000 mm in height.

Launcher is a developer of rockets and transfer vehicles and currently operates a fleet of metal Additive Manufacturing machines and other advanced manufacturing systems from companies such as Velo3D, EOS and AMCM. 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.

“We’re happy to include the state-of-the-art system for depowdering to our outstanding AM fleet,” stated Max Haot, founder and CEO of Launcher.

The company uses copper (CuCrZr) due to its high conductivity and efficient cooling, which poses a particular depowdering challenge as copper powder residues tend to clog in cavities and show a ‘sticky’ behaviour. In addition, manual cleaning reaches its limits when it comes to rocket parts with a height of up to 1000 mm weighing several hundred kilograms.

The E-2 liquid rocket engine combustion chamber is an example of the large components additively manufactured at Launcher (Courtesy Launcher)

Solukon states that its SFM depowdering system, with its unique SPR® technology (Smart Powder Recuperation), tackles these issues. 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, unfused metal build material is completely removed from complex channels and geometries, meaning a significant increase in efficiency, safety and quality.

The Solukon SFM-AT1000-S, an advancement of the SFM-AT800-S-system and particularly designed for large and heavy parts, allows the easy movement of parts with a size up to 600 x 600 x 1000 mm (XYZ) with a weight up to 800 kg. This makes it the ideal post-processing 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 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.

With the acquisition of the SFM-AT1000-S powder removal system, Launcher is expected to be able to efficiently depowder rocket engines and combustion chambers.

Tim Berry, Launcher’s Head of Manufacturing, commented, “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 automise our production process as we achieve reliable and repeatable cleaning results. In addition, we benefit from Solukon’s experience and support when optimising our fast and forward-thinking production lines.”

Andreas Hartmann, CEO and CTO of Solukon, added, “Yet again, it’s an honour 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.”

For more background on Launcher, read our ‘Metal Additive Manufacturing and the new Space Race: The inside track with Launcher and AMCM’ lead article in the Winter 2020 issue of Metal AM magazine.

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