Boeing has hired Oxford Performance Materials, Inc. (OPM), a leader in advanced materials science and high-performance additive manufacturing (HPAM™), to make about 600 3-D printed parts for its CST-100 Starliner – a futuristic “space taxi.” The Starliner’s primary mission is to transport crew to the International Space Station and to private space stations such as the proposed Bigelow Aerospace Commercial Space Station.
The 3-D printed parts will be made with OPM’s patented OXFAB® technology, which features the company’s proprietary poly-ether-ketone-ketone (PEKK) formulation. OPM describes it as a “high-performance polymeric material” with “an extraordinary range of benefits that include robust mechanical performance, extreme temperature tolerance, high purity, gamma stability, and extremely high chemical resistance.”
The actual additive manufacturing process OPM uses is called selective laser melting. The method is a free-form, tool-less process which produces “uniform, near-isotropic properties with exceptional build fidelity and nearly limitless design possibilities.”
“From our earliest discussions with Boeing, they stressed the need to see significant reductions in weight, cost and lead times in order to consider replacing traditional metallic and composite parts with a new technology for their space program,” said Lawrence Varholak, President of OPM Aerospace & Industrial. “We are proud to be developing and delivering OXFAB® technology to the highest standards.”
To facilitate production, OPM secured multiple rounds of funding from Hexcel, a leading supplier of advanced composites for commercial aerospace, space and defense and industrial applications. OPM Aerospace & Industrial also utilizes Hexcel carbon fiber in the production of OPM’S 3D printed OXFAB®–ESD advanced thermoplastic structural parts for its aerospace, satellite & defense programs. To date, Hexcel has invested $25 million in the Starliner project.
“Aerospace adoption of reinforced manufactured parts using Hexcel carbon fiber is becoming a viable and meaningful design solution due to its performance and processing advantages,” said Hexcel Chairman, CEO and President Nick Stanage. “With the adoption of these lightweight, high-performing materials expected to accelerate, this is an ideal opportunity for our two companies to work together enabling faster product development and adoption for our customers.”