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3D Printing Blog

Showcase of some of the recent projects we have been working on at GPI Prototype and Manufacturing Services.

The University of California, San Diego chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space conducted two hot-fire tests of their second 3D printed rocket engine on April 18, 2015 at the Friends of Amateur Rocketry test facility in the Mojave Desert.

The rocket engine, named Ignus, was sponsored by GPI Prototype and metal 3D printed at their facilities in Lake Bluff, IL. The rocket engine utilized liquid oxygen and kerosene as its propellants and was designed to achieve 750 lbf of thrust, a stepping stone in the club’s goal of producing larger and more powerful rocket engines.

“We aim to align our research so it is compatible with the needs of the aerospace industry. 3D printing has significant benefits including huge cuts to the cost, time to fabricate, and weight of rocket engines”, said Deepak Atyam, Club President and Gordon Fellow.

The SEDS chapter conducted this research with the support of various organizations including GPI Prototype, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Lockheed Martin, the Gordon Engineering Leadership Center, and XCOR Aerospace.

Ignus is the first engine that was tested in a series of hot fires of different engine designs that the club plans to do in a lead up to their eventual rocket launch later this year at the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition. The competition will be held in Green River, Utah June 24-27, 2015. That rocket, named Vulcan1, would be one of the first rockets powered by a 3D printed engine in the world.


University of California San Diego Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS UCSD) announced that they successfully launched the Vulcan-1 rocket on May 21st at the Friends of Amateur Rocketry (FAR) site in Mojave, CA.

Some delays were initially experienced, but the 3d printed rocket engine was launched successfully in windy conditions. This achievement makes them the first university group to design, create, and launch a rocket powered by a completely 3D printed engine.

Vulcan-1 is 19 feet long, 8 inches in diameter, and capable of producing 750 lbs of thrust. The rocket was powered with a combination of liquid oxygen (LOx) and refined kerosene and used a cryogenic, bi-propellant, liquid-fueled blow down system. The rocket engine was sponsored by GPI Prototype & Manufacturing Services and 3D printed in inconel 718 at their facilities in Lake Bluff, IL.

The Vulcan-1 project began in 2014 and quickly grew into a team of over 60 student engineers. The team fabricated and tested the rocket at Open Source Maker Labs, which provided equipment and support for the project.  SEDS UCSD also received mentor support from NASA, XCOR, Open Source Maker Labs, and many other groups in the space industry.

“This sort of technology has really come to fruition in the last few years.  This is proof of concept that if students at the undergraduate level could drive down the costs of building these engines, we could actually fly rockets and send up payload that is cheaper and more efficient,” said Darren Charrier, the group’s incoming president.  “One day, we’d like to see this technology being implemented on large-scale rockets, which means that we could send satellites to provide internet for developing countries, we could mine asteroids, perhaps even go colonize Mars.”


The photos below show a guitar tailpiece we 3d printed in metal using direct metal laser melting (DMLM). The project is a great example of high-end 3d printed guitar parts that can be created using this unique metal 3d printing technology.

The design for the tailpiece was inspired by the front grille of a 1937 Delahaye 135MS Roadster. Two versions of this part were created, one as a completely 3d printed piece and another where just the frame was 3D printed and vertical rods were added separately. The project illustrates how just because something can be 3d printed, for some parts 3d printing better complements existing fabrication techniques.

Looking for a custom guitar? Visit Mark Lacey Custom Guitars for more information about this guitar and other guitar projects.

Car Photo By Rex Gray [Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic]

One of the many benefits of using additive manufacturing, commonly referred to as 3D printing, to produce consumer goods is that it offers the opportunity for mass customization.  Mass customization is the ability to produce personalized products that meet customer specified needs, at or near mass production pricing.

The major limiting factor in bringing mass customized products to market is the expensive tooling required to produce these parts, and the large minimum order quantities required to make that tooling economical.  Enter in Additive Manufacturing (AM).

Additive manufacturing produces anything from one off prototypes to production parts without the need for expensive tooling.  Due to the layer based nature of the processes, additive manufacturing allows one to print multiples of the same part, or multiple variations, at one time.  In product development, this reduces time to market by shortening the prototyping cycle. In production, additive manufacturing enables one to print customized products specifically tailored to an individual.

GPI Prototype & Manufacturing Services completed the first set of custom bike lugs and drop outs for Jamie White of Métier Vélo. Métier Vélo, which translates to "craft bicycle" or "professional bicycle", is a custom bicycle design and fabrication shop based out of Salt Lake City, Utah.

Producing these parts in Titanium Ti-6Al-V4 (Ti64) additively allows Jamie to build bikes designed specifically for the individual fit of each rider; meaning no two Métier Vélo bicycles are the same.

Metal additive manufacturing produces part geometries not possible through subtractive or cast methods.  Métier Vélo's lugs are completely hollow featuring complex internal geometries, internal cable routing, and custom mounts. For easy repair the lugs and drop outs can be un-bonded from their carbon fiber tubes if the tubes become damaged. Not to mention they look amazing!

This is the questions I hear the most...Well how does DMLS work?

Are you familiar with stereolithography (SLA)? Well they are very similar processes, but DMLS does it in metal.

What makes SLA and DMLS similar is that fact that both build with supports, SLA builds with supports and so does DMLS. This means that any bottom surface must be supported to the build plate. The easiest way to explain this is that if you were to slice the part into a bunch of layers then take those layers and start from the bottom and work your way to the top, you then have to stack these layers one on top of the other right? So, you have to build from something, one layer must build on top of something else whether it be a support or another layer it just cannot be free floating in air like the SLS process is.

I hear a lot well isn't it like SLS and it doesn't require supports? Nope, this is much different, the reason being is that there is stress involved, just like traditional machining there is some warping and stress. Each layer is melted locally using a fibre optic laser, so that layer can become very hot and the laser isn't zapping the whole part at once (which may be worst).

Here is how the whole DMLS process starts:

1) You start with a CAD file that is sliced into 20 or 40 micron layers using a specialized software called Magics. There is a lot more that goes into just taking the CAD file, for instance each part must be orientated to build the best way. I can't give away all the secrets right?
2) Take the sliced file and input it into the EOS software and depict the best angle for this part to be facing the recoater blade (the blade that sweeps new powder over each layer).
3) Output job file.
4) Add powder and level build plate inside the equipment.
5) Install Job parameters for the EOS equipment via the EOS software.
6) Input job file to the EOS equipment computer.
7) Let oxygen levels get to a safe amount.
8) Hit GO!
9) Take build plate out of EOS equipment.
10) Cut parts off the build plate (typically a 2-4 mm support structure under the part is cut close to the plate).
11) Remove support material with a variety of tools and/or CNC equipment.
12) Finish said parts to desired finish level.
13) Pack and send.

I made that seem very simple, however there is much more that is involved. Removing the supports isn't always the easiest thing in the world, as the support material is the same material that the part is created in. I know I am missing a ton of information but this is the easiest way to teach you how the actual process works. Stay tuned for more blog posts.

The million dollar question right...is it really worth prototyping the exotic metals using DMLS rather than machining them. I guess it is really going to depend on your time frame and geometry. The thing about DMLS is, its super fast, on top of that it can create really complex geometries. Would it be worth a one off CNC of a titanium or aluminum part if you have to create work-holders and buy a lot of material to do just one part, probably not. Let me talk a little about each of the exotic materials.


Since DMLS is an additive technology, it drastically reduces material waste in comparison with traditional processes. Investment casting of titanium is difficult and often has a high scrap rate. Currently, many titanium aerospace components are machined from solid stock, often cutting away 90% or more of the original material. This becomes a time consuming, costly operation that is completely eliminated with titanium DMLS, not to mention much lower labor costs.

Some of the characteristics that make titanium ideal for aerospace applications also make it difficult to machine. Its hardness and low heat conductivity reduce tool speeds and life, require a great deal of liquid cooling during machining, and limit the productivity of certain shapes, such as thin walls. Laser-sintered titanium retains the beneficial properties of the metal and involves no tool-wear or coolant costs. In addition, nearly any geometry, including thin walls, can be created with laser-sintering. - Nextbigfuture.com

Typical Applications:

- Direct manufacture of functional prototypes, small series products, individualized products-
- Spare parts requiring good corrosion resitance properties

- Parts requiring a combination of high mechanical properties and low specific weight

- Structural and engine components for aerospace and motor racing applications, etc.


EOS Aluminium AlSi10Mg is a master alloy aluminium- powder. AlSi10Mg is a typical casting alloy with good casting properties and is used for cast parts with thin walls and complex geometry. The alloy combination silicon/magnesium results in a significant increase in the strength and hardness. It also features good dynamic properties and is therefore used for parts subject to high loads.Standard building parameters completely melt the powder in the entire part.

Parts made of EOS Aluminium AlSi10Mg can be machined, wire eroded and electrical discharge machined,welded, micro-blasted, polished and coated. Unexposed powder can be re-used.

Typical applications:

- Direct manufacture of functional prototypes, small production runs, user-specific products or spare parts
- Parts that require a combination of good thermal properties with low weight


Machining Inconel 718 is tough and nobody likes to do it. The DMLS process allows you to produce Inconel parts quick, while being affordable.

This material is ideal for many high temperature applications such as gas turbine parts, instrumentation parts, power and process industry parts etc. Material also possesses excellent cryogenic properties and potential for cryogenic applications.

Standard processing parameters use full melting of the entire geometry, typically with 20 µm layer thickness. Parts built from EOS NickelAlloy IN718 can be easily post-hardened to 40-47 HRC (370-450HB) by precipitation-hardening heat treatments. In both as-built and age hardened states the parts can be machined, spark-eroded, welded, micro shot-peened, polished and coated if required. Unexposed powder can be reused.

Typical applications:

- Aero and land based turbine engine parts
- Rocket and space application components
- Chemical and process industry parts
- Oil well, petroleum and natural gas industry parts

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