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Orbital refueling and manufacturing go from theory to reality in 2021

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The idea of satellites and other spacecraft being able to refuel, repair or even add new capabilities while in orbit has generally seemed like a “nice in theory” one, but as leaders from Maxar, Astroscale and Orbit Fab explained at TC Sessions: Space, 2021 will be the year that theory becomes reality — or at the very least, realistic.

Once they go up, satellites are generally considered fixed assets that only depreciate, become obsolete or reach the end of their fuel supply and inevitably deorbit. But with a bit of coordination many of these phenomenally expensive spacecraft could have their lives extended in a number of ways, and considering the costs involved in lofting a new one, the prospect may be an attractive one.

“Launch costs are going down, but also launch frequency, the cadence in which things are being sent up into space is also going up,” pointed out Lucy Condakchian, GM of robotics at Maxar Technologies . “So if you can launch smaller subsystems payloads and whatnot, and then be able to assemble things in space, maybe change out a certain aspect of what that satellite is doing… Why can’t we go up and actually change out a power subsystem, change out a camera mechanism, a computing element, whatever the case may be?”

That’s what Maxar and NASA will be demonstrating next year with OSAM-1, formerly called Restore-L, in which a spacecraft will attempt to service, assemble and manufacture items (hence the name) while on orbit.

“Just being able to demonstrate something in space shows that we can do that, proves the point of ‘Yes, it is possible,’ and hopefully it opens up much further opportunities down the road,” said Condakchian. The company’s robotic arms for Martian landers have shown their versatility, as well, and there’s no reason to think that satellite arms won’t be as broadly useful.

While Maxar is aiming to equip future spacecraft, Ron Lopez, president of Astroscale US (the original company is Japan-based), sees an opportunity in today’s aging space infrastructure.

“There are a lot of companies that are developing on orbit inspection services. That’s for the satellites that are already out there that don’t have those robotic capabilities, or can’t afford to have them in the future when the product owner-operator decides not to put them on,” he explained.

“There’s any number of different use cases for this kind of capability,” he continued. “Insurance claims if there’s an anomaly on a satellite, and it needs to be determined what it was that happened, etc., or space situational awareness. Of course, we know that this is a big concern for everybody with the increasing number of objects in space, understanding what’s where, doing what and is it a threat to other objects in space, is very important.”

Astroscale, which recently raised a $51 million Series E, is about to launch a mission in just a few months that will demonstrate orbital debris detection and removal. That doesn’t mean spare screws dropped by ISS spacewalks — more likely dead satellites that have been left to drift and deorbit on their own time, which could be years from now. All they need is a little push and low-Earth orbit is that much safer and cleaner.

Daniel Faber, CEO and founder of Orbit Fab, wants to prevent that situation from occurring in the first place by building what he calls “gas stations in space.” It’s a bit different from the terrestrial ones, closer perhaps to in-flight refueling of jets, but you get the idea.

“The future that Orbit Fab sees is a fully cooperative and bustling in space economy, we don’t think that that can be achieved by relying on robotics on every spacecraft, there’s always going to be a need for tow trucks, there’s always going to be a need for complex robotic servicing when things go wrong, and things break down. And right now, nothing has been designed to be serviced. So you need a tow truck for any of these type of things,” he said.

“We failed to build a satellite gas tanker because we couldn’t find the fueling port. So we built one,” he said, referring to the company’s RAFTI connector, which dozens of partners are now looking at including in their spacecraft. “We’ve had to develop other products and technologies as well to make refueling accessible to our customers.”

The tanker will have its first orbit tests — you guessed it, next year. A recently announced investment, bringing their seed total to $6 million, should help make that happen. 2021 is looking to be a big one for many areas of space, but in this particular sector it will be the moment where the capability is proven out, perhaps leading to a major expansion the following year.

That was just a fraction of what we talked about on the panel. If you missed it live, don’t worry — Extra Crunch subscribers get access to all the on-stage content from TC Sessions: Space and every other event as well. Sign up here.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/12/18/orbital-refueling-and-manufacturing-go-from-theory-to-reality-in-2021/

Aerospace

Additive is the answer!

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Additive is the answer!

GE Additive Concept Laser

In a Q&A session, Chris Schuppe, GE Additive’s general manager of engineering and technology, explains why additive manufacturing holds the answer to manufacturing complex and difficult-to-machine components.

Chris Schuppe, general manager – engineering & technology, GE Additive

GE Additive strives to bring the transformative power of advanced manufacturing to aerospace businesses around the globe. Through its own experience incorporating additive technologies into its production process, GE Additive says it recognises the value and possibilities it brings to modern design and manufacturing challenges.

Q) What are the types of trends and demands placed on your company by today’s designers?

Customers are looking for optimisation of the total value chain of producing their parts, not just the printing itself. Everything from build file set up, distortion and compensation modelling, scan path optimisation, powder loading/unloading, recycling, post-processing, and inspection are just some examples where they are asking for help. Some customers are looking for dedicated service support or more autonomous servicing of the machines on their own. Many are also looking for help identifying the right applications and designing them for the best business case outcome.

Q) What are today’s customers looking for in terms of AM-related performance solutions?

Customers want to get to a first conforming print in as few iterations as possible – distortion and compensation modelling is a key enabler here. Powder recycling and reuse or virgin add to minimise powder costs while meeting material requirements.

Many customers in the aerospace sector are, of course, looking for reduced weight, cost, better thermal management in their additive parts. Applications include airfoils, complex structures, heat exchangers, rocket engine parts, satellite components, etc.

Q) How mature is the current additive manufacturing supply chain?

Much of the supply chain is mature from a production qualification perspective but it is mostly tailored to lower quantity production. High volume production techniques in terms of automation, powder handling, powder removal, inspection are still maturing though present in some high volume applications like the GE Aviation fuel nozzle where certain portions of the process have been automated, but there is still a long way to go to reach the automation levels seen in other industrial manufacturing processes.

Q) Is additive manufacturing restricted by the size of parts and the speed in which it can deposit materials?

It depends on the modality (i.e. powder bed, directed energy, etc.) that is applied, but in general there are limitations. Powder bed parts are generally limited to ~500mm in diameter or less today, though some progress to larger sizes is possible up to ~1m. Directed energy is in theory limitless in size, though typically there is some practical limit but parts up to 3-4m are quite possible.

GE Additive fuel nozzle

Material deposition rates are also dependent on the modality: Single laser speeds are the slowest, but most machines now have gone to multi-laser systems that amplify this speed; Electron Beam Melting (EBM) is typically 2-4X the speed of a typical single laser; Binder jet is 50-100X the speed; Directed energy is very dependent on the type of deposition – blown powder, wire fed, etc typically trade resolution vs speed; Extremely fast deposition is possible, but typically with poor resolution.

Q) How much of a post-production issue is it to remove support webbing after the printing process?

It depends on the application and modality. Laser typically requires more supports, EBM less and binder jet typically none. However, multiple mitigations are possible: Limiting or eliminating supports through good design; Optimising the machine parameters to enable ‘supportless’ builds; Limited or non-contact supports; Frangible supports; Automated support removal.

Q) And how much is AM being used to print tools, say for sending parts over the wire to support an aircraft on the ground (AOG)?

This is limited today, but is a growing field of use. Several examples exist in other industries, and some in aerospace, of printing simple parts or tools in remote areas. The ability to print a good part the first time (as discussed above) will be a key enabler for more complex parts.

Q) Are derivatives of AM, such as wire and arc additive manufacture (WAAM) and EBM finding favour in the aerospace industry?

Yes. Directed energy systems like wire and arc additive have applicability especially for large, simple structures. EBM has applicability in difficult to solidify materials like high temperature nickel alloys and Titanium Aluminide – for example, where GE Aviation is printing low pressure turbine blades for the GE9X engine for the Boeing 777X that enable a significant weight reduction.

Q) With its ability to print complex, difficult-to-machine parts requiring multiple operations and entire subassemblies, is AM truly the way forward or are cycle times and ‘flight ready’ part qualification an issue?

AM truly enables complex components, and cycle times are coming down and will continue to improve as the total process matures. Flight ready parts have already been proven and are in revenue service in commercial, military and space applications.

www.ge.com/additive

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A change for the better

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A change for the better

Marcus Lee, vice-president of human resources, Cobham Mission Systems

According to Marcus Lee, vice-president of human resources for Cobham Mission Systems in the UK, the way the company works has changed forever. And it’s a change for the better.

The way in which we work changed dramatically for everyone just over a year ago, and in doing so, reshaped our future at the same time.

Cobham Mission Systems mobilised the majority of our colleagues to work remotely, while they were also balancing child care or home schooling. Other colleagues, where personal or business need precluded them from working from home, experienced rapid changes in working practices.

Throughout it all, we saw people displaying the best characteristics possible. We have seen agility, resilience, compassion, innovation, teamwork, flexibility, humility and, most importantly, care. Care for our customers, care for delivery, care for each other, care for continuing to get things done.

Together, we have learnt and we have listened. In focusing on health and safety, we heard countless ideas about changes on-site employees envisioned to keep everyone as safe as possible while still delivering for customers.

We learnt to use technology to support whole teams working in a virtual way. We all increased skills for remote management, remote working. We became even more aware of the impact of wellbeing and how people have managed. We followed through on our desire to check-in with people, provide support for people whose lives were seriously disrupted, for those who were anxious and concerned. We re-learnt the importance of keeping the channels of communication open to everyone. A diligent rhythm that never stopped.

Our last engagement survey tells us almost 90% of our colleagues feel positive about our response to the pandemic. Which means we need to do more for the 10%. To once again listen and learn. In just one year, we have undone a lifetime of working practices designed for a normal day, in a normal environment.

This is now our chance to do things better, with greater pace, through better people engagement, to a future with more efficient ways of working. While retaining the absolute best of being in the same place at the right times.

Because the workplace is still our community – a social environment that allows face-to-face engagement, casual discussions that make things work, a place to connect. Some aspects of work will always be done in shared physical space – negotiations, critical business decisions, creative and informal meetings, providing sensitive feedback, and essential physical work that involves assembly and build.

What this disruptive year created is an opportunity to reimagine the future of work. A future that is a better, more productive, happier place to be. A future where everyone is able to work in a way where they can deliver their very best. One with greater alignment, teamwork, empowerment and trust. Best for them, best for the team, best for customers.

It changes what we need from (and for) our managers. Managers will need to have stronger emotional intelligence and social skills, alongside the technical skills required. We will be managing people more remotely. The talent pool available to us has just got much larger. We will need to identify when people are facing challenges. And we will need to build teams where innovation and ideas will come from absolutely everywhere. We will need to work even harder to ensure people feel valued, recognised and connected.

These ‘next generation’ management skills will be in demand across and beyond our industry; there will be great demand on the pipeline for future talent. For STEM careers, organisations will see the need for people to create new practices, new technologies, new processes and structures to evolve the way we all work in a new future.

This is a time to really inspire and excite people by creating new expectations about workplace agility, the working environment and practices that will see people and organisations thrive for years to come.

www.cobhammissionsystems.com

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Marketing in manufacturing

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Marketing in manufacturing

Marketing communications forms a core organisational pillar that underpin business strategy

Dominic Walters, an expert in developing integrated marketing communications strategies which enhance every aspect of organisational strategy looks at how marketing in manufacturing can become the ‘force multiplier’ for your business.

What is marketing communications and what can it do for your business? When done well, marketing communications is one of the core organisational pillars delivering powerful outcomes that underpin business strategies.

Dominic Walters, a leading marketing communications professional

In my 25-year career I have seen how it can help drive a business’ agenda forward. But what about the manufacturing industry? Is it making the most of this powerful weapon? While some companies within the manufacturing industry, especially those serving the general consumer, have taken steps to embrace marcomms as a core pillar of their operations, I believe there are still too many that lag behind. As a result, many companies within the industry are missing out on the opportunity to leverage the true power of marcomms.

The main reasons behind this vary from organisation to organisation, however, it’s fair to say that marketing communications within the manufacturing industry has always had a strange relationship with the business. Recognition of the importance of the marketing communications teams seems to differ dramatically across the sector but in some organisations, it is seen as the team that ‘sprinkles fairy dust’ on a CEO’s or leadership team’s presentations. At worst, it’s seen as a place to move senior employees who want a change from their role – often engineers looking for a change – ignoring the fact that they will not have the necessary skills for the role despite their technical knowledge. After all, how often do you hear of the director of marketing communications transferring to become the head of engineering? Fundamentally, the main issue stems from the fact that marcomms is not recognised as a core pillar to deliver on the business’ overarching objectives. Business leaders in the industry still treat marcomms as a ‘nice to have’ when they should be treating it as a ‘must have’.

Right time, right audience

Having worked in or consulted to some large and diverse engineering and manufacturing businesses over the past two decades, I have seen first-hand some of the most common mistakes that are repeated time after time. Perhaps the most common one is tech-led storytelling trap. This means that the majority of the business content – including branding, sales pitches, media relations and overall narrative – focuses on the technical wizardry of the products and services. Now there is definitely a time and place for this and it’s vital to communicate these elements, but at the right time and to the right audiences. Most audiences – with very few exceptions – primarily care about the problem your product or service will solve, how it will deliver on their strategies and whether it will create economic value for their business. Understanding the technical brilliance is most certainly part of the credibility strategy, but way further down their list of priorities.

Shining a light on the opportunities, mistakes and myths surrounding marketing communications

How do new prospects, suppliers, customers, and potential advocates know who you are, what you offer and how you stack up against the competition and trust what you offer? Usually it’s not through tech-led messaging. From my experience, sales pitches or media briefings that are technically led, end up either never getting to the point or losing the audience halfway through which is a lost opportunity and an open door for the competition. The key is to shape a powerful narrative that communicates the big, bold and simple messages to quickly establish a voice and reach your key audiences with these messages at the right time. A good real-life example is the world of satellites and connectivity which I have worked in. It involves technical brilliance, innovation and rockets – all exciting! However, some businesses in this space fall into the trap of focusing on complex messaging around the satellite build, speed, spectrums, rocket launches, etc. Instead, customers need to hear a simpler message that communicates how “all that innovative and technically brilliant wizardry” translates into real beneficial solutions to the bottom line such as; revenues, end-customer satisfaction, efficiencies etc.

Another worrying phrase I have heard on occasion is: ‘we’re a B2B organisation, we don’t really need to do marketing’. Wrong. There is more than enough evidence out there to show that B2B organisations need to do more marketing than B2C because their audiences are much more cautious and discerning when buying for their business. Remember the phrase from the 80s’ ‘No one got fired for choosing IBM’? That sums up what goes through B2B decision-makers’ minds, a rollercoaster of emotions and analysis as to whether they should buy your product. Also, often in B2B sales, the buying cycle is much longer than the consumer buying process, so it’s vital to treat your marcomms strategy like a long road trip ensuring that the important milestones on the journey are the building blocks all the way to success.

The creative spark

Don’t treat marketing communications as a department that can be led by someone without the necessary skills. Adopting a customer-centric messaging strategy that communicates the key benefits to your customers may sound simple, however it’s a skill that good marketers have perfected by getting under the skin of the business they represent and its unique market proposition including innovations, products and people. This in-depth knowledge of the business combined with their experience in developing impactful messaging create a dynamite marketing package which can excite and engage customers and employees alike. This customer-led approach differentiates many businesses but also underpins the long-term strategy. If you want to make a real difference and harness the power of marketing communications, the starting point is to recognise its importance. That means setting it up to succeed, not fail, establishing a team that is experienced and skilled led by professionals with the right skills. Remember: “everyone is creative – not everyone is a creative”. Many people can read, write and draw, that does not make them authors or artists.

Essentially it all comes back to recognising the true value of marcomms and re-shaping the conversations around its importance. Creating a powerful function with the right disciplines and skills will help you deliver on your strategy and become a pioneering voice within your industry.

Author of ‘Cutting Through the Bull – Harnessing the Power at Your Fingertips’, Dominic Walters advises ambitious businesses and leadership teams on how to shape effective marketing communications strategies that drive business growth, launch or transformation objectives. A leading marcomms professional with more than 20 years’ experience he specialises in delivering effective strategies with practical solutions helping to underpin reputation, credibility and sales. He has advised and held senior roles in a range of organisations, including BAE Systems, Network Rail, Inmarsat PLC, BP, Shell, PizzaExpress Hong Kong. 

www.dominicwalters.net

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Prototyping on demand

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Prototyping on demand

SST’s EBOCAM large chamber machine is suitable for EBOADD production of large volume components

In a Q&A session, electron beam (EB) specialist Steigerwald Strahltechnik (SST) head of development, Dr Michael Maaßen discusses the company’s EBOADD 3D metal printing process.

Q) For some time now, your company has been pushing a new, highly innovative technology which is referred to as the EBOADD process. What exactly is behind EBOADD?

EBOADD, a technology of ‘Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing’, is a process developed by SST which makes it possible to produce highly complex, metallic workpieces in a single process step, in a cost-effective and flexible manner. Put simply, EBOADD is a 3D metal printing process that involves building up metallic components layer by layer from wire material, or material with a powder base, using the EB technology.

Dr Michael Maaßen, SST’s head of development

A particular benefit of this process is that different components can therefore be produced from weldable materials whereas the production of such components would be very costly and/or time-consuming in conventional metal processing. This is the case, for instance, when manufacturing individual parts for which a new tool set would have to be purchased but the investment would not be profitable due to the low quantity.

Q) So the principle is similar to that of a 3D plastic printer?

The basic principle, yes, although the process technology in detail of course is very different. With the EBOADD process, a molten metal is applied in layers on a base plate. The first layer is welded to the base plate and the subsequent layers are then built up on top of it. In the process, the metal substance is conveyed in wire form into the melting zone by a wire feeding device and then fused by the electron beam.

The application in layers follows a trajectory, i.e. a defined path of movement which reproduces the outer contour of the component. If necessary, the constructed contour can of course also be filled with wire material. The component is built up in multiple layers placed on top of each other.

If a workpiece produced in this manner requires further machining, the required machining allowance can be adjusted easily and precisely. This way, what is referred to as the buy-to-fly ratio, i.e. the ratio of material used to material loss from machining, can be optimised, in particular when using expensive materials.

Q) What energy source is used for the EBOADD process?

The workpiece is built up in a Steigerwald Strahltechnik electron beam chamber machine. The efficient energy source is an electron beam which is generated by a high-powered generator unit from the EBOGEN series. These EB generators are mobile and facilitate power flux densities of up to more than 107W/cm2. As already mentioned, the electron beam fuses the source material, facilitating the continuous build-up. Given that the entire process is carried out in a vacuum, it can be used to achieve very high build-up speeds, alongside the other benefits it offers.

Q) You already mentioned that the process itself is carried out in a Steigerwald Strahltechnik electron beam chamber machine. How much flexibility is there with regard to the sizes of workpieces?

Electron beam chamber machines from the EBOCAM series which have been specially equipped for the EBOADD process are used. This type of machine is very flexible when it comes to possible chamber sizes. An EBOCAM large chamber machine with a chamber volume of 50m3 is therefore ideally suited for EBOADD production of large volume components.

Q) Finally, let’s talk about the areas of application. What do you consider these to be and in which sectors?

We have identified the main areas of application in sectors which are highly technological. These are innovative and forward-thinking companies or institutions dealing with new key technologies. In this field, there is a great deal of interest in making sure that technologies, applications and products are ready for series production as quickly as possible. That’s why the focus is often on the engineering of prototypes and small batches.

Workpieces are built up in a Steigerwald Strahltechnik electron beam chamber machine

In sectors such as aerospace engineering, e-mobility, in renewable energies or even in classic mechanical and plant engineering, the additive EBOADD production therefore makes for the shortest possible development times because innovations can be tested, improved and prepared for series production more quickly. The EBOADD process offers ideal design flexibility to the users – new material combinations with new integrated functions and the optimisation of material properties are also possible.

When it comes to new developments or further development, the factors of time and cost reduction play a major role. EBOADD can have a positive effect on the overall process in this area too. For one, thanks to the elimination of expensive tools and a very good buy-to-fly ratio, and also thanks to very short lead-times made possible by direct data processing from the customer’s CAD applications – this makes genuine prototyping on demand possible.

www.eboadd.com

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