3-D Printing for Space

3-D printing is known for creating models and smaller scale products, but now manufacturers are using this technology to develop metal parts for aircrafts and rockets. Join us as we dive deeper into this innovative process of additive manufacturing.


3-D printing is known for creating models and smaller-scale products, but now manufacturers are using this technology to develop metal parts for aircrafts and rockets.

Join us as we dive deeper into this innovative process of additive manufacturing.

Incodema is an acronym, and it stands for INvent, COncept, DEsign, MAnufacture.

That's where the name came from.

We're a contract manufacturer using additive technology to produce parts for our clients, all for prototype all the way through production.


What is additive manufacturing?

Years ago, it was called 3-D printing.

We don't specifically deal in plastics.

What we specifically deal in is metals.

We work with titanium, cobalt-chrome, many different grades of stainless steel.

We're dealing with very good materials.

That opens up an opportunity to go into a lot of different fields.

We're very focused in the aerospace sector.

Are you building stuff for spaceships?

We are.

I mean, space and rocket launch is a very big part of our business.

A very common product here is heat-transfer parts -- so heat sinks, computer-board holders, turbine blades, things for propulsion.

This isn't your garage tool that you go out and get ahold of.

Let's go over the old ways of using metal to make something.

The three main are forgings -- so where you're using, really, a hot, malleable material.

You're putting it into a mold.


There's a couple of different ways to cast -- investment cast or sand cast -- and then subtractive machining.

It's a process where there's quite a bit of waste.

You're removing, you know, a lot of material to really come down to a smaller piece that you cut out of that, and then, of course, additive.

In our particular technology, it's with powder, and we additively layer that up where we don't have the waste, and we're much more accurate, and, in many cases, we're starting to see that the properties that we're able to produce with this technology, depending on direction, are, in some ways, better than any of those other three that we described.

Yeah, so a company like NASA, so they would have an injector they normally would build that would have been 40 different pieces all put together at the end of a 36-week timeline.

We're able to take that same part using this technology, and we're able to deliver that part in 8 to 10 weeks.

And how do they send you the redesign?

How does that process work?

Do they just e-mail you something and say, 'Can you guys do this?'

Essentially, it's as easy as that.

It's as easy as what?

Sending a 3-D file and giving us a print to match.

That's as easy as making those changes and putting the part in the machine and going forward.

This is the physical part.

What's going on over here?

So, here we're building the combustion chamber.

The machine, what it does, is it actually starts with a substrate plate, so the plate starts with no powder on it, and we smooth out a very thin, in this case, 40-micron layer of powder.

The laser then hits that first layer a couple of times at the beginning to get a really good weld to the solid plate.

After that, the machine then welds that down, goes back over.

The arm goes to the dispense platform, then picks up a pile of powder, spreads that pile of powder across the plate again, and then a fiber-optic laser in the range between 1,000-to-2,200-degree melt temperatures then welds it again, and then you repeat that process over and over and over.

So we're really welding a part layer by layer.

There are challenges, you know, that we face -- right now, in and of itself, of the technology.

So we've got companies out there used to doing things in a conventional method -- you know, characterized casting or machining.

They know how to design it.

They know how it's gonna work.

They know how the material is gonna behave.

We're working through some things now where we're having to work with clients really deeply into understanding the technology so they can actually use it in more of a broad sense in their production where they can actually put this on a print and say, 'We need a part built this way, we need it done like this, we need it done like this,' and have those tables to design to.


So, Scott, what do we have going on here?

So today we have a rocket chamber.

So the part right now is building layer by layer on a rocket chamber in Inconel.

If we were building this standing up this way, we just finished building this extension off of the chamber, and we're in this region right here.

Is this really as simple as it looks like?

I mean, you just move this up and down to see where you are on the level of the...? You can visualize where you are?

It is.

I mean, once it's on the machine, it's that simple.

The process before getting to the machine isn't quite that simple, but, yes.

Once it's on the machine, it is pretty simple to monitor what's going on in the equipment -- you know, what material, what layers, what kind of gas is being used, you know, where -- what kind of geometry we're gonna be building, what kind of problems might be coming up.

If we do see a problem that's happening in the machine, we can go back, and, in real time, look at why is it having a problem?

We can see on the screen, 'Oh, that's the geometry it's trying to build,' and based on our experience of the recoder and what happens with that, we might be able to make a change, stop it, see, advise the customer of a design change possible.

You know, things like that are what we work through.

One way to look at additive, just look at nature.

Everything in nature is what we're going to.

You know, there's so many companies that I go to to help teach them how to design for additive, and, really, what I should be doing is just coming in with, like, a book on leaves and trees and branches and how they build because that's additive.

That's how you design for additive.

Look at -- I mean, this is not how you design for additive.

If you look at everything here -- the square, the I-beam, the brackets -- all these things -- that's man.

That's not nature.

But if you go outside and you look at a tree, and you start looking at the nature and how that -- how strength comes from that, that's what we do in additive.

That's how you design for additive.

Let's talk about where this might go.

Be the visionary guy.

In 2050, what?

Well, even earlier than that.

You know, we're projecting in 2020 that this becomes a $15-billion annual sales business globally for metal 3-D printing.

I always talk specifically about metal because the plastic's a different sector.

So we're seeing doubling of growth because of the adoption of the technology, and it's taken years to get that acceptance of the technology.

So, are you sort of the next stage of the manufacturing story of central New York then?

I'd say we're the next stage of the advanced manufacturing story.

We try to talk to clients and get them to understand that it's another way to build parts.

It's another tool in the toolbox.

This doesn't solve everything.

We still need to work with all the conventional methods to create the best part for our client.

You know, so it's kind of where the future meets the past, and they come together, and we make a perfect part that they've been waiting for for years for this to happen.