Special Issue paper

Redesigning a Reaction Control Thruster for Metal-Based Additive Manufacturing: A Case Study in Design for Additive Manufacturing

[+] Author and Article Information
Nicholas A. Meisel

School of Engineering Design, Technology, and
Professional Programs,
The Pennsylvania State University,
213J Hammond Building,
University Park, PA 16802
e-mail: nam20@psu.edu

Matthew R. Woods

Xact Metal,
200 Innovation Boulevard,
State College, PA 16802
e-mail: mv2woods@gmail.com

Timothy W. Simpson

Fellow ASME
Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering,
The Pennsylvania State University,
209 Leonard Building,
University Park, PA 16802
e-mail: tws8@psu.edu

Corey J. Dickman

Applied Research Laboratory,
P.O. Box 30 4400D,
State College, PA 16804
e-mail: cjd160@arl.psu.edu

1Corresponding author.

Contributed by the Design for Manufacturing Committee of ASME for publication in the JOURNAL OF MECHANICAL DESIGN. Manuscript received January 30, 2017; final manuscript received May 25, 2017; published online August 30, 2017. Assoc. Editor: Paul Witherell.

J. Mech. Des 139(10), 100903 (Aug 30, 2017) (8 pages) Paper No: MD-17-1073; doi: 10.1115/1.4037250 History: Received January 30, 2017; Revised May 25, 2017

Prior research has shown that powder-bed fusion (PBF) additive manufacturing (AM) can be used to make functional, end-use components from powdered metallic alloys, such as Inconel® 718 superalloy. However, these end-use components and products are often based on designs developed for more traditional subtractive manufacturing processes and do not take advantage of the unique design freedoms afforded by AM. In this paper, we present a case study involving the redesign of NASA’s existing “pencil” thruster used for spacecraft attitude control. The initial pencil thruster was designed for and manufactured using traditional subtractive methods. The main focus in this paper is to (a) identify the need for and use of both opportunistic and restrictive design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) concepts and considerations in redesigning the thruster for fabrication with PBF AM and (b) compare the resulting DfAM thruster with a parallel development effort redesigning the original thruster to be manufactured more effectively using subtractive manufacturing processes. The results from this case study show how developing end-use AM components using specific DfAM guidelines can significantly reduce manufacturing time and costs while enabling new and novel design geometries.

Copyright © 2017 by ASME
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Fig. 1

Process flow diagram for AM production of end-use metallic parts

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Fig. 2

Traditionally manufactured thruster rendering (top) and section view along chamber central axis of redesigned traditionally manufactured thruster (bottom)

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Fig. 3

Overall model (top) and internal features (bottom) of assembled AM pencil thruster

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Fig. 4

Self-supporting internal channels for propellant delivery

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Fig. 5

Threaded test modules (left) and assembled threaded AM pencil thruster test piece (right) with plastic welds to demonstrate concept

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Fig. 6

As-built AM thruster parts

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Fig. 7

Challenging horizontal band setup (left) and strain hardened failed cut attempt (right)

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Fig. 8

Low density support structure for supporting geometry overhang at the propellant port mating feature

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Fig. 9

Assembled AM pencil thruster before (top) and after (bottom) buffing

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Fig. 10

XRCT provided sufficient means of weld inspection to determine if a true seal was produced without significant inclusions or porosity. Section views allowed us to determine if internal channels were clear of debris and had geometry consistently produced as designed in computer-aided design.

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Fig. 11

Comparison of fabricating three pencil thrusters using AM or traditional methods (smaller is better)




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