Konica Minolta’s 3D printers underpin Fleet Space innovation

Fleet Space, an Australian commercial small satellite manufacturer, has partnered with Konica Minolta to implement 3D printers from 3D Systems in support of Fleet Space’s innovation.

The manufacturer aims to bring manufacturing back onshore for the space, strategic and mineral exploration industries. The 3D printer will scale up Fleet Space’s processes for low Earth orbit, connecting billions of devices.

With production in Australia co-funded by the South Australian government, Fleet Space uses communications and space technologies to enable the next big leap in human civilisation.

The small satellites from Fleet Space incorporate the world’s first 3D-printed, all-metal patch antenna, which delivers 10 times more throughput per kilogram of spacecraft. The 3D printing of these antennae was outsourced to an offshore provider; however, significant scale-up efficiencies can be found in bringing production to Australia. Fleet Space has been contracted to scale its operations significantly in 2022 and 2023 and needed a more efficient way to 3D print these antennae at scale.

“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,” Konica Minolta national manager, emerging technology Matthew Hunter said.

Konica Minolta and 3D Systems then worked with Fleet Space to develop a build strategy, first proving that the DMP350 could print the quality of aluminum part and in the volume required for Fleet Space to keep up with demand. This process was key in Fleet Space’s decision to implement the DMP350 metal printer.

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

“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.”

Fleet Space initially plans to use the 3D printer to scale up manufacturing of the metal antennae. However, the efficiencies provided by this new device will let Fleet Space ramp up innovation at the same time, using it to develop prototypes and new parts during 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 said.

“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.”

According to Hunter, Konica Minolta identified Fleet Space’s business issue and recommended the right technology to overcome that issue.

“The team also determined the financial viability of the project and brought in application experts from Fleet Space and 3D Systems to work through the manufacturing process to achieve the right physical part outcome,” he said.

“The team at Fleet Space is extremely excited about this 3D printer as it will be both a manufacturing tool and an innovation enabler.”

New Technology Era

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