Aerospace AMAM for Space

Airbus and Oerlikon sign €3.8 million contract for AM parts

Successfully industrialized process focuses on serial production of antenna clusters

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Oerlikon AM and Airbus have successfully industrialized the additive manufacturing (AM) process for complex serial production of antenna clusters. These will be used in a series of communication satellites that will be orbiting earth soon. This marks an important milestone in the ten-year collaboration between both companies in an area requiring absolute accuracy and has resulted in a €3.8 million contract to additively manufacture these satellite components.

“To create a final product of excellent quality, technical cooperation and understanding each other’s needs and requirements is fundamental for a well-coordinated design and manufacturing process – not only in rapid prototyping but even more so in serial production,” said Michael Kilian, R&D Manager for Additive Manufacturing of RF Space Components, Airbus.

The two companies have been working together in the field of 3D printed metal parts for space for more than ten years, developing components, several of which are already in orbit. The aluminum antenna clusters measure approximately 400x400x400 mm and are manufactured using laser powder bed fusion technology. These antennas are part of next-generation communication satellites that will transmit and receive communication and/or data signals in K-band frequency.

Airbus and Oerlikon sign €3.8 million contract for AM parts via an industrialized process for serial production of antenna clusters

“The key success factor is the specific AM machine setup, which allows the family of geometries to be reproduced with the required accuracy and the process to be indefinitely repeated. Thus, we met the high accuracy and quality requirements of Airbus, and consequently the specified European Space Agency (ESA) standards for satellites,” said Hendrik Alfter, Managing Director, Oerlikon AM. “We are pleased that the cooperation has resulted in a €3.8 million multi-year contract for the supply of antenna clusters.”

Advanced technologies like additive manufacturing are key in space applications to deliver benefits such as weight reduction. Moreover, satellites must meet extremely challenging mass, reliability and sustainability requirements. Thanks to AM, the production lead time for an antenna cluster could be reduced from six months to a few weeks compared to conventional manufacturing.

In addition to aluminum 3D printing, the two parties have jointly fine-tuned the post-processing as a key part of the process development. As an all-round service provider, Oerlikon AM offers Airbus printing, post-processing and surface finish optimization for the best possible RF (radio frequency) performance, precision CNC (computer numerical control) milling, quality assurance, ultrasonic cleaning, assembly, and wire integration, as well as customized logistics. Oerlikon AM is a registered and qualified supplier to Airbus and passes audits annually.

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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based VoxelMatters. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites and, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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