A cup for breakfast, a car, an office building, a tortilla skewer… The list of things you can print today is endless. 3D printers are so versatile that they even allow you to create the necessary parts to build a new printer. The main advantage of this technology, the reduction of costs that it allows in the industry, is the characteristic that makes it one of the most promising innovations of recent years. It will be a matter of time before the rockets we use to travel to space take advantage of the full potential of 3D printing. Because the first steps in this line are already being covered.
The name of Relativity is increasingly heard in the most innovative circles of the aerospace sector. The startup US closed last March a round of investment of more than 30 million euros with which it hopes to expand its automated process of 3D printing to make rockets considerably reducing its price and time of manufacture.
The company has reached an agreement with NASA's Stennis Space Center to rent 10 hectares in southern Mississippi where it will develop and test its designs. They expect to build 36 rockets a year.
It is obvious that Relativity is not a pioneer in this field. Other companies have much more experience in the application of this technology, but do not bet on it on a large scale: they only print 1% of its components. "The problem with that approach is that there are about 100,000 parts in a rocket," explained to Business Insider Tim Ellis, CEO and one of the founders of the startup. "We want to reach 95% before the end of 2020."
Ellis founded Relativity with Jordan Noone, whom he met in 2013, when they both worked at Blue Origins, the aerospace transport company founded by the king of electronic commerce: Jeff Bezos. And the competition in this sector is fierce. Whoever became the richest man in the world at the hands of Amazon plays in the same league as SpaceX, the aerospace company founded by Elon Musk, creator of other successes such as PayPal or Tesla Motors. And both have turned to 3D printing, to a greater or lesser extent, to make their rockets.
While this technology reduces production costs in the sector, it is not the only advantage it offers. A good example would be the British company Renishaw, which markets 3D metal printers and works on the creation of high-speed aerospace turbines. Its tools allow to make alloys based on nickel that reduce the time that the operators spend manipulating the material, guaranteeing a greater security in the constructive process.
Not to mention how technology influences the quality of the final product and the flexibility it gives to any structural change. The French company Stelia Aerospace He recognized that additive manufacturing – the construction process based on adding layers of material to obtain the desired shape – gives greater freedom to the designs.