One of former president Barack Obama’s most important legacies in manufacturing policy is America Makes, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII), an initiative to advance additive manufacturing.
The group is thriving, and is much more than a think tank.
One example is Oxford Performance Materials, which demonstrated that additively manufactured PEKK plastic could meet the stringent, mechanical, thermal, safety and other requirements for structural aerospace components as part of an America Makes project. Its partners were Northrup Grumman and NASA.
Now OPM is shipping PEKK parts to Boeing for the Starliner space craft that is designed to transport up to seven passengers, or a mix of crew and cargo, to low-Earth orbit destinations such as the International Space Station.
OPM’s Aerospace & Industrial Division established performance attributes verified in a B-Basis database that was developed in conjunction with NASA.
“From our earliest discussions with Boeing, they stressed the need to see significant reductions in weight, cost and lead times in order to consider replacing traditional metallic and composite parts with a new technology for their space program,” said Lawrence Varholak, president of OPM Aerospace & Industrial.
Additively manufacturing PEKK is no ordinary beast, and it clearly shows where America fits in a world of advanced manufacturing.
Most AM uses 3D printing plastics with little engineering pedigree, such as PLA or ABS. PEKK was first synthesized by DuPont in 1962 and was commercially introduced in the late 1980s. It combines good thermal, chemical, fire and other properties. OPM showed that it can withstand a temperature range of -300 to + 300 F as an additively manufactured part. PEKK’s melting point is 639 F.
To make PEKK parts, laser sintering machine builder EOS developed the heavily insulated EOSINT P 800, which is designed for process temperatures of up to 725 F. The machine includes an integrated Online Laser Power Control module to continuously monitor laser performance. That’s necessary to hit spec requirements spot on.
OPM’s bread-and-butter business is medical parts such as cranial implants that obviously require an exact fit. Parts are certified to fit within one mm of specs in all directions.