NASA's portfolio of manufacturing technology is a valuable resource for companies looking to improve their capabilities and bring innovative products to market. From aerospace and defense to healthcare and beyond, NASA's manufacturing technology can help you produce high-quality products that meet the most demanding requirements. So, if you're looking to take your manufacturing to new heights, NASA's portfolio of manufacturing technology might contain your solution.
Interim, In Situ Additive Manufacturing Inspection
The in situ inspection technology for additive manufacturing combines different types of cameras strategically placed around the part to monitor its properties during construction. The IR cameras collect accurate temperature data to validate thermal math models, while the visual cameras obtain highly detailed data at the exact location of the laser to build accurate, as-built geometric models. Furthermore, certain adopted techniques (e.g., single to grouped pixels comparison to avoid bad/biased pixels) reduce false positive readings. NASA has developed and tested prototypes in both laser-sintered plastic and metal processes. The technology detected errors due to stray powder sparking and material layer lifts. Furthermore, the technology has the potential to detect anomalies in the property profile that are caused by errors due to stress, power density issues, incomplete melting, voids, incomplete fill, and layer lift-up. Three-dimensional models of the printed parts were reconstructed using only the collected data, which demonstrates the success and potential of the technology to provide a deeper understanding of the laser-metal interactions. By monitoring the print, layer by layer, in real-time, users can pause the process and make corrections to the build as needed, reducing material, energy, and time wasted in nonconforming parts.
Predicting Plug Weld Quality
Friction plug welding is a process in which there is a small rotating part (plug) being spun and simultaneously pulled (forged) into a larger part to fill or repair a hole or join two pieces (functioning like a rivet). Learning from 1,500+ quality "known" plug welds, NASA’s experts build a load curve that, when combined with the welders’ knowledge of strain size, predicts the properties of a plug weld. The software monitors load, spindle speed, torque, displacement speed and distance, and the material properties and dimensions of the sample. The software correlates changes in the process parameters to mechanical testing of ultimate tensile strength. The software works for several Aluminum alloys such as 2015, 2195, and 2219. NASA is using the technology in its current work for closing out the termination hole of some friction stir welds. FPW is also used for repairs and as a potential replacement for rivets.
Wafer-scale membrane release process
The process of forming thermal insulation wafer begins with layering a photo resist pattern on an aluminum coated substrate. After the aluminum is etched, a temporary adhesive is applied to the photo resist and substrate. Next, the construction undergoes wafer scale bonding to a silicon insulator. The silicon insulator is then patterned and etched down to the buried oxide layer. The temporary adhesive is then dissolved in acetone. The acetone is diluted with non-polar solvents which are then removed via critical drying. Goddard Space Flight Center has produced multiple arrays of crystalline silicon membranes that were 450 nm thick and were isolated from a silicon support structure by thermal isolation structures that were 30 microns thick and 5 microns long. The largest membranes, among which had 100 % mechanical yield, had an aerial footprint of 1.6 mm x 1.4 mm.
Stronger Plug for Friction Pull Plug Welding of Thick Plates
Friction Pull Plug Welding (FPPW) is the process necessary to plug the hole that is left behind as a friction stir weld (FSW) joint is completed and the pin tool of the welder retracts from the joint. FPPW involves a small, rotating part (plug) being spun and simultaneously pulled (forged) into a hole in a larger part. Much work has been done to fully understand and characterize the process and its limitations. FPPW worked very well for building large rocket sections such as the circumferential welds of the upper stages of NASA's Ares rocket, and to repair the external tank. Engineers were challenged to adapt FPPW to accommodate the thicker plates new alloy combinations of the SLS. The new hybrid plug solves the issue of the plugs snapping due to the increase torsion and moment stresses when joining thicker plates. The new hybrid plug, with a steel shank, makes FPPW more practical and robust. The new plug has been used to make space-qualified parts at NASA, and the plug welds are as strong as initial welds.
Modular Fixturing for Assembly and Welding Applications
NASA's researchers have designed modular fixtures to address inefficiencies in time, labor, and material costs due to the need to fabricate unique, monolithic fixture bodies for different segments of the Space Launch System (SLS). Before NASA staff can configure and weld rocket sections, they must assemble modular tooling atop a large turntable with radial grooves. Supporting braces (tombstones) that form the base of the modular structure slide into radial grooves. Other extending, clamping, and joining fixtures can be variously connected to the base structure to provide circumferential support for producing conical and cylindrical structures. NASA has used the tooling to produce structures with diameters of up to 27 feet. Depending on the desired application, the base can be scaled to produce larger or smaller diameters, and the grooves can be arranged with a longitudinal arrangement for production of parts with bilateral symmetry. The development of these modular fixtures required an initial investment similar to that of a single project's tool design and fabrication costs. Once produced, only a fraction of that time/cost is required to begin all subsequent projects. NASA has used this new, adaptable tooling in the construction of several different rocket stages, proving its cost-saving capabilities.
Ultrasonic Stir Welding
Ultrasonic Stir Welding is a solid state stir welding process, meaning that the weld work piece does not melt during the welding process. The process uses a stir rod to stir the plasticized abutting surfaces of two pieces of metallic alloy that forms the weld joint. Heating is done using a specially designed induction coil. The control system has the capability to pulse the high-power ultrasonic (HPU) energy of the stir rod on and off at different rates from 1-second pulses to 60-millisecond pulses. This pulsing capability allows the stir rod to act as a mechanical device (moving and stirring plasticized nugget material) when the HPU energy is off, and allowing the energized stir rod to transfer HPU energy into the weld nugget (to reduce forces, increase stir rod life, etc.) when the HPU energy is on. The process can be used to join high-melting-temperature alloys such as titanium, Inconel, and steel.
Lower Chatter Friction Pull Plug Welding (FPPW)
The new friction pull plug design is optimized to reduce chatter that results as a fast rotating plug enters the hole in the part. The plug design is based on a shank with multiple frustoconical sections shown in the figure to the right. The sections are carefully sized to ensure that the spinning plug contacts the edge of the hole at just the right position to minimize chatter. It keeps the machine from stalling when the plug enters the hole. This new design makes FPPW more practical, perhaps even as a future rivet replacement.
Cladding and Freeform Deposition for Coolant Channel Closeout
LWDC technology enables an improved channel wall nozzle with an outer liner that is fused to the inner liner to contain the coolant. It is an additive manufacturing technology that builds upon large-scale cladding techniques that have been used for many years in the oil and gas industry and in the repair industry for aerospace components. LWDC leverages wire freeform laser deposition to create features in place and to seal the coolant channels. It enables bimetallic components such as an internal copper liner with a superalloy jacket. LWDC begins when a fabricated liner made from one material, Material #1, is cladded with an interim Material #2 that sets up the base structure for channel slotting. A robotic and wire-based fused additive welding system creates a freeform shell on the outside of the liner. Building up from the base, the rotating weld head spools a bead of wire, closing out the coolant channels as the laser traverses circumferentially around the slotted liner. This creates a joint at the interface of the two materials that is reliable and repeatable. The LWDC wire and laser process is continued for each layer until the slotted liner is fully closed out without the need for any filler internal to the coolant channels. The micrograph on the left shows the quality of the bond at the interface of the channel edge and the closeout layer; on the right is a copper channel closed out with stainless.
Variable-Power Handheld Laser Torch
Features of the handheld torch's design include manual controls to modify the laser diameter and power output in real time. This ability allows the user to adjust the laser depending on circumstantial needs, resulting in a torch that is well suited for in-field repairs of metals where space and time are constrained. The primary applications are likely to be in-field welding and brazing of damaged specialized equipment. The laser technology is a variable-power, continuous-wave, handheld fiber laser torch for brazing metals with an increased precision and maneuverability. The laser hardware and supply measures 24 inches in length, 15 inches in width, and 30 inches in height, with a torch diameter of about 0.8 inches. This size is nearly half that of traditional welding systems, which increases the portability of the machine as well as the welder's maneuverability. The current handheld torch replaces earlier versions of handheld torches that cost over $700K to produce and had much larger footprints. After numerous design improvements and the inclusion of a commercial off-the-shelf fiber laser, the third-generation NASA torch is much smaller, with the handheld component being about 2.5 times larger than standard ink pens. The NASA handheld torch and system integration is estimated to cost between $60K and $70K. NASA has used the handheld laser on Haynes 230 super alloy to improve localized repair procedures. Preliminary tests produced a consistent data set of yield strength (YS), ultimate tensile strength (UTS), and percent elongation (%EL) that are comparable to the results of current GTAW techniques.
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