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Boeing plans to build 3D-printed modular satellites to cut costs

Published on February 24, 2017 by Threedigo

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3D Printing Creeps Into Boeing’s Satellite Manufacturing written by: kkll11 In the ongoing race to standardize and democratize access to space, businesses involved in the production and deployment of spacecraft technology are adapting to new competitive and manufacturing paradigms. The American multinational company Boeing—one of the world’s largest aerospace manufacturers—has revealed plans to overhaul its satellite production processes with additive manufacturing technology. With this move, Boeing expects to speed up its satellite production, reduce costs, and enable modular satellite designs in the future.

Tough competition in the new Space Race

Additive manufacturing is already being used in Boeing’s aircraft production with excellent results, and the company wants to endow its satellite division with similar productivity. According to Paul Rusnock, 3D printing should result in less manufacturing errors and faster assembly. The head of Boeing’s Satellite Business highlights how the company’s current output—10 satellites per year—will see a substantial (and financially rewarding) boost once additive manufacturing deploys at full throttle.

The average unit price of Boeing’s high-tech satellites—$150 million—is seen as an eminent liability that the new production routines will correct. By streamlining its satellite production lines with 3D-printed automation, the aerospace giant aims to be in privileged position to successfully manage the industry challenges during the next decades. On one hand, Boeing will manufacture cheaper satellites on reduced labor costs. On the other, the ability to produce modular satellites will allow seamless integration of newer technological upgrades, enabling shorter turnaround times for customer requests.

This is an important step to deal with the increasingly tougher competition in the new ‘Space Race’: Airbus, Boeing’s major competitor, is in the works to begin the mass production of smaller and relatively cheap satellites in the near future. On a parallel note, the recent announcement of Boeing’s investment in the additive manufacturing expertise of Oxford Performance Materials is probably no coincidence. The small company will, presumably, 3D print roughly 600 parts for Boeing’s upcoming Starliner space taxi.

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