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Fleet Space, Konica Minolta partner for 3D printer offering

By Zach Thompson
Thu 23 Jun 2022

Fleet Space has partnered with Konica Minolta to implement 3D printers from 3D Systems to support the commercial small satellite manufacturer’s offerings.

The 3D printer aims to increase Fleet Space’s manufacturing of small satellites for low Earth orbit to connect billions of devices, and with it, the company intends to bring manufacturing for the space, strategic and mineral exploration industries back to Australia.

The company is an industry leader for manufacturing in the space, strategic and mineral explorations sectors.

With its production in Australia co-funded by the South Australian Government, Fleet Space focuses on using state-of-the-art edge communications and space technologies to bring about innovative solutions.

Included in the design of Fleet Space’s small satellites is a world-first 3D-printed, all-metal patch antenna, which offers 10 times more throughput per kilogram of spacecraft.

Although Fleet Space outsourced the 3D printing of these antennae to an offshore provider, running operations in Australia offers significant benefits to increasing production.

“Fleet Space has a mission to unlock the power of global connectivity to effect true change for our critical industries,” Fleet Space CEO and co-founder Flavia Tata Nardini says.

“For example, we are making critical energy transition mineral exploration faster, more sustainable, and less expensive.

“This is not possible without the very best technical partners. We are delighted to work with Konica Minolta to deliver an entirely new constellation of fully 3D-printed satellites at scale and to the very highest technical specifications.”

As part of Fleet Space’s contract, it is expected to dramatically increase its operations in 2022 and 2023, and the partnership with Konica Minolta came about due to its need for a more efficient way of 3D printing these antennae at scale.

“Fleet Space is one of Australia’s most innovative companies, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible,” Konica Minolta emerging technology national manager Matthew Hunter says.

“However, this level of innovation often comes at a significant cost. Fleet Space is harnessing the efficiencies that can be found by deploying a smart, in-house 3D printing solution.

“Konica Minolta reached out to Fleet Space to start a discussion and begin a proof of concept to prove that the 3D Systems DMP350 Flex metal 3D printing solution could deliver the outcomes Fleet Space required.”

From here, Konica Minolta and 3D Systems worked with Fleet Space to develop a build strategy.

The first step was to prove that the DMP350 could print the quality of aluminium part and in the quantity Fleet Space needed to keep up with demand.

For Fleet Space, this process was crucial in its decision to use the DMP350 metal printer.

“This is a highly technical environment with precise specifications,” Hunter notes.

“Konica Minolta was able to prove that the 3D Systems metal printers include market-leading technology that lets users 3D print with aluminium in a precise, repeated and scalable method.

“This made Fleet Space both more productive and cost-effective for its volume manufacturing offices and provides ongoing capacity for important research and development, keeping the organisation at the cutting edge.

“The consultative approach taken by Konica Minolta and 3D Systems means that Fleet Space will be able to go straight into volume manufacturing as soon as the device arrives.”

Fleet Space will initially use the 3D printer to scale up its manufacturing of the metal antennae, but the benefits this new device offers will also allow it to be more innovative, and the company will be able to use it to develop prototypes and new parts during the downtime from manufacturing the antennae.

“One of the key criteria for Fleet Space  was that the 3D printer could deliver a repeatable process to avoid any variation between parts,” 3D Systems SEANZ industrial solutions group leader Tim Naylor says.

“Our printer has a closed-loop architecture, which guarantees an accurate and repeatable process.

“The machine also has the lowest oxygen content on the market, which delivers a pure part without defects, something that is very important when it comes to aerospace applications.”

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