Qualification of Metal Additive Manufacturing in Space Industry : Challenges for Product Development

Abstract: Additive manufacturing (AM), or 3D printing, is a collection of production processes that has received a good deal of attention in recent years from different industries. Features such as mass production of customised products, design freedom, part consolidation and cost efficient low volume production drive the development of, and the interest in, these technologies. One industry that could potentially benefit from AM with metal materials is the space industry, an industry that has become a more competitive environment with established actors being challenged by new commercial initiatives. To be competitive in these new market conditions, the need for innovation and cost awareness has increased. Efficiency in product development and manufacturing is required, and AM is promising from these perspectives. However, the maturity of the AM processes is still at a level that requires cautious implementation in direct applications. Variation in manufacturing outcome and sensitivity to part geometry impact material properties and part behaviour. Since the space industry is characterised by the use of products in harsh environments with no room for failure, strict requirements govern product development, manufacturing and use of space applications. Parts have to be shown to meet specific quality control requirements, which is done through a qualification process. The purpose of this thesis is to investigate challenges with development and qualification of AM parts for space applications, and their impact on the product development process. Specifically, the challenges with powder bed fusion (PBF) processes have been in focus in this thesis.Four studies have been carried out within this research project. The first was a literature review coupled with visits to AM actors in Sweden that set the direction for the research. The second study consisted of a series of interviews at one company in the space industry to understand the expectations for AM and its implications on product development. This was coupled with a third study consisting of a workshop series with three companies in the space industry. The fourth study was an in-depth look at one company to map the qualification of manufacturing processes in the space industry, and the challenges that are seen for AM. The results from these studies show that engineers in the space industry work under conditions that are not always under their control, and which impact how they are able to be innovative and to introduce new manufacturing technologies, such as AM. The importance of product quality also tends to lead engineers into relying on previous designs meaning incremental, rather than radical, development of products is therefore typical. Furthermore, the qualification of manufacturing processes relies on previous experience which means that introducing new processes, such as AM, is difficult due to the lack of knowledge of their behaviour. Two major challenges with the qualification of critical AM parts for space applications have been identified: (i) the requirement to show that critical parts are damage tolerant which is challenging due to the lack of understanding of AM inherent defects, and (ii) the difficulty of testing parts in representative environments. This implies that the whole product development process is impacted in the development and qualification of AM parts; early, as well as later stages. To be able to utilise the design freedom that comes with AM, the capabilities of the chosen AM process has to be considered. Therefore, Design for Manufacturing (DfM) has evolved into Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM). While DfAM is important for the part design, this thesis also discusses its importance in the qualification of AM parts. In addition, the role of systems engineering in the development and qualification of AM parts for space applications is highlighted.