Lucas123 writes: United Launch Alliance (ULA), the company that makes rockets for NASA and the U.S. Air Force, plans to 3D print more than 100 flight-ready components for its next-gen Vulcan rocket. The company also just printed its first flight-ready component, a new Environmental Control System for its current Atlas V rocket. The ECS assembly had previously contained 140 parts that were made by third party suppliers, but ULA was able to reduce the parts to just 16, resulting in a 57% part-cost reduction. Along with cost reduction, ULA said 3D printing frees it from contracts with parts providers who may or may not deliver on time depending on whether the deem the rocket maker a priority at any given time. The company, which launches 12 rockets each year, is also hoping to use 3D printing for a more traditional role — rapid prototyping of parts. “We have a long list of [parts] candidates to evaluate — over 100 polymer parts we’re considering and another 50 or so metal parts we’re considering,” said Greg Arend, program manager for additive manufacturing at ULA.
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