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Safe and Consistent Rocket Parts Built via Additive Manufacturing

Validating 3D-printed rocket parts is a lot faster and affordable with simulation software.

When it comes to live spaceflights, failure is not an option. This is because the best-case scenario for scraping or failing a mission is the loss of $150 million and years of planning.

One-way engineers ensure spaceflight safety is to manufacture parts that meet tight tolerances. Meeting these tolerances can be a significant challenge for engineers that 3D-print rocket parts.

Metal additive manufacturing isn’t understood as well as traditional production processes. This knowledge gap often leads to parts printing out of specification.

It’s hard to ensure metal 3D-printed parts meet tolerances because each part is printed layer by layer. The printer does this by melting a metal micropowder with a very focused laser beam. As each layer cools and contracts, it creates residual stresses in lower layers that can distort or even crack the part.

Distortions are common and difficult to predict — even by an experienced technician. It’s even harder when the printed part looks good but has microfaults or residual stresses. Deformations, microfaults and residual stress can cause a part to brake unexpectedly posing a considerable threat to the rocket’s safety.

Traditionally, trial and error is used to solve these problems, but, it is quite expensive and time-consuming.

For example, a part can take hundreds of hours to print. If it’s cracked, it becomes a very expensive piece of scrap. Starting over again by blindly redesigning the part geometry isn’t productive.

When ArianeGroup’s engineers face this challenge, they use ANSYS and Dynardo simulation software. Their simulations validate the quality of their additive-manufactured parts before they print. The engineers have found that this workflow significantly reduces development time and costs.

How Simulation Validates the Additive Manufacturing of Rocket Parts

ArianeGroup uses metal additive manufacturing to reduce the cost, weight and lead time for its parts.

ArianeGroup’s simulation workflow to validate their 3D printed rocket parts.

ArianeGroup’s engineers originally used trial and error to optimize the printing process and part geometry. So, when the company printed its first parts they didn’t turn out as planned.

To better understand how to reduce deformations caused by the additive manufacturing process, ArianeGroup’s engineers now simulate the 3D-printing of their parts through an automated workflow in ANSYS Mechanical and ANSYS optiSLang.

ArianeGroup’s workflow helps its engineers identify the temperature, stress and strain at every point in the part as it is being printed. The workflow gives engineers data they can use to validate and iterate the design, so it prints properly the first time.

To learn how ArianeGroup’s engineers created this metal additive manufacturing workflow in detail, read Qualifying Additive Manufactured Rocket Parts with Simulation.