European satellite builders turn to Poly-Shape for metal 3D-printed parts

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LOS ANGELES — The aerospace industry’s view of additive manufacturing has changed dramatically since Stephane Abed founded Poly-Shape in 2007.

At that time, few aircraft or spacecraft manufacturers were considering additive manufacturing for metal parts. A decade later, contracts with Thales Alenia Space and Airbus Defence and Space keep employees busy.

“We produce parts every day that go into spacecraft,” Abed, Poly-Shape founder and chief executive, told SpaceNews at the Additive Aerospace Summit here last week. “They are qualified and they are launched.”

The aerospace market grew so quickly, in fact, that Poly-Shape and LISI Aerospace, a firm based in Paris that manufacturers structural components and fasteners, formed LISI Aerospace Additive Manufacturing in 2015 to pair LISI’s relationships with aerospace primes with Poly-Shape’s expertise in 3D printing and 30 metal additive manufacturing machines.

“Now we are able to answer big Requests for Quotation from U.S. and European companies,” Abed said.

Poly-Shape’s first 3D-printed satellite part, an antenna support structure, was launched in 2015 on a telecommunications satellite owned by Turkmenistan and Monaco. “Initially it was several parts,” Abed said. By combining the elements in one part, Poly-Shape was able to decrease the component’s mass by 60 percent and its cost by 25 percent, he said.

Since then, Poly-Shape produced for Thales the largest metal parts additively manufactured for satellites in Europe, identical antenna supports for the KoreaSat 7 communications satellite, launched in May, and KoreaSat 5a, slated to fly by year’s end. The parts weigh 22 percent less than their conventionally manufactured counterparts and cost about 30 percent less.  

For Poly-Shape, the most challenging part of working with space companies is the qualification process.

“We have to demonstrate that we had full traceability and quality control on the materials and on the software,” Abed said. “It took four years to qualify the first parts. Now everything is frozen. We don’t change anything and so we have an opportunity to produce parts.”

In addition to manufacturing aerospace parts, Poly-Shape produces Formula One racecar components and customized medical implants. Poly-Shape also is part of the European initiative to send a metal 3D printer to the International Space Station by 2020.