Barrelhand is a company based in California committed to innovating and advancing the frontiers of technology. Its products, such as the Monolith watch, are designed and engineered for the future of space exploration with a focus on identifying and integrating emerging technologies and ideas that have the potential to benefit humanity, particularly in terms of enabling us to expand our reach beyond Earth. During the development of Monolith, Barrelhand continually iterated on an ultra-lightweight design to reduce the cost to orbit, utilizing cutting-edge digital fabrication techniques. The outcome is a fully 3D printed titanium chassis that is more than 40% lighter than a solid case while maintaining full structural integrity and strength.
The Monolith 3D printed chassis
When designing Monolith, Barrelhand built on the learnings acquired from the previous Project One, especially with regard to 3D printing. The entire team at Barrelhand has also applied years of experience in building and leading companies in the space of digital fabrication. This knowledge has gone towards the creation of new standards in the design and manufacturing of Monolith.
The current iteration of the chassis is monolithically 3D printed in aerospace-grade Ti 6Al-4V titanium, which is one of the multiple aerospace-grade materials that we are exploring. By incorporating skeletonized lugs and internal lattice structures, the designers were able to reduce the overall weight by over 40% while preserving its full structural integrity. The chassis was designed and optimized with 3D printing in mind, resulting in a geometry with various hollowed-out areas and supporting lattice structures that could not have been realized using any other method of fabrication.
“Designing something which can be monolithically 3D printed without the constraints of traditional manufacturing is the holy grail of engineering,” said Karel Bachand, Founder and Chief Engineer at Barrelhand. “It allows us to create just about any complex geometry, fully optimized towards the harsh conditions of space. I loved flowing through the design process and watching the case form almost organically out of the technical requirements into something that feels like art as a function of engineering.”
The Monolith chassis is the result of a collaboration with Materialise. The Belgian 3D printing solution provider has established its Competence Center for Metal 3D Printing in Bremen, Germany where they have dedicated engineers with years of experience, offering the full range of AM expertise from design to dedicated parameter setting and final finishing. Materialise and Barrelhand are creating new standards for the design, production, and quality assurance of 3D printed parts for series production applications while meeting ISO standards.
The chassis was printed using L-PBF (via DMLS on EOS machines) a technology widely used in the space and aerospace industry. This process removes many limitations of conventional fabrication methods but while additive manufacturing offers unprecedented design freedom, it doesn’t mean that it’s easy to work with, especially for consumer products – even high-end ones. During development, Barrelhand had to understand how the unique forces and temperatures of the build process affect the design to ensure a consistent and high-quality end result. The result is a chassis with complex structures and internal cavities that is also self-supporting during the printing process (ie. there are no overhangs greater than 45 degrees). This resulted in organic shapes that are easy to print and flow with the design.
“Design freedom in additive manufacturing enabled us to perfectly combine innovation and lightweight in order to match the visionary approach of the project,” said Philip Buchholz, Innovation Manager Metal 3D Printing, Materialise. “With our in-depth knowledge from design to print and finishing, we managed to perfectly consult Barrelhand on developing a professional product for space, ready for serial production.”
Barrelhand is currently working on the 14th iteration of the 3D printed chassis which demonstrates another benefit of additive manufacturing: the ability to rapidly iterate on designs. This development journey involved removing material wherever possible while maintaining a strong, rigid frame until reaching the production-ready chassis version. The final design strikes a balance between maximizing the potential of scalable additive manufacturing, meeting the requirements of space, and providing gentle surfaces that feel right.
At a mere 10g (equivalent weight of 10 paper clips) for the entire titanium 3D printed chassis, it will enable Monolith to be in a new category of ultra-lightweight watches, true to the company’s mission of building products for the next chapter of space exploration.