Traditional methods of building heat exchanger devices for interplanetary vehicle are labor-intensive and time-consuming. The manufacturing process can take up to nine months.
Fabrisonic, an Ohio-based company specializing in metal 3D printing, used its patented technology to additively manufacture heat exchanger devices. The metal 3D printed components have now passed NASA’s quality control tests and are ready for flight in space.
Fabrisonic used Ultrasonic Additive Manufacturing (UAM), an additive manufacturing and subtractive technique, to build a heat exchanger, a device designed to control and regulate the temperature of an interplanetary vehicle’s electronic system.
With the UAM process, Fabrisonic 3D printed a heat exchanger that is 30% lighter.
Heat exchanger devices range from small (3 in. x 3 in.) to large (3 ft. x 3 ft.) structures. They are built using metal tubes glued and fastened to the outside of a vehicle such as a Mars rover. The purpose of this device is to protect the electronic system of the vehicle from extreme temperatures it will experience in space.
The UAM process uses ultrasonic welding to bond dissimilar metals, it is a unique additive manufacturing process in this regard. Computer numerical control (CNC) milling for subtracting the material after the additive process. Hence, the technology is a hybrid of additive and subtractive processes. The UAM process uses “high frequency ultrasonic vibrations to scrub metal foils together layer by layer.”
The process of making a heat exchanger with UAM begins with a metal substrate to which material is added. The material is then removed from the initial structure to make fluid passageways. At a later stage, the passageways are filled with a proprietary water-soluble solution for additional support. Finally, the structure is treated with heat, and CNC machining adds the final touches.
The UAM process is solid-state. It can work with most metals at a low temperature of 250 Fahrenheit. This allows bonding of varying materials like copper with aluminium. Within the same heat exchanger, copper can be used in specific places where temperatures are higher and aluminium could be used to keep the device lighter and in places where the heating temperature is lower.