Last year we revealed the installation of our massive new 3D printer and hinted it was not the only large machine that we owned. Time to reveal another one!
Building 3D printed mainstage engines in a single piece - without the need for any old-fashioned welding processes - creates very large metallic structures that need to be machined to high tolerances to be ready for testing and use. And we need to prepare our engines and other parts with high precision and full automation to ensure repeatability.
Those requirements drive the need for a completely in-house post-processing toolchain to finish the printed parts, which is why we invested in one of the largest CNC centres built by Haas, the massive EC1600-ZT 5AX.
This enormous 5-axis CNC milling centre - so big that you can actually walk inside the main machining bed - has a very large 1270mm y-axis that allows us to machine full engine chambers in a vertical orientation, allowing the cleaning of faces and finishing of various ports and interfaces in a single series of instructions. It has a 50-tool magazine, so it can complete processing of an engine chamber within a single, fully-automated programme, reducing the time it takes to prepare an engine for inspection and ensuring repeatability across a series of engines. And it is wide enough to accommodate the full diameter of the launch vehicle to machine other key structural elements.
To get to the point where we can now push the button on a series of engines, we have spent a great deal of time on the design-for-manufacturing of the engines - an investment over several years to understand how to design the engines and other components to simplify the production process and minimize the processing steps, avoiding any manual or extraneous tasks. That work has involved numerous design iterations and trials of various approaches to adapt the design of the main components to make the process faster and more elegant.
The huge Haas CNC machine is now fully operational in the Orbex factory, and is busy processing a series of Stage 1 and Stage 2 engine chambers for the first launch vehicle as well as numerous other parts as part of the main superalloy processing toolchain. And there's not a single welding robot in sight.