Today Firefly announced they will be switching the production of their rocket airframes to an automated fiber placement system. They are retrofitting their facility in Briggs, Texas with two machines from Ingersoll Machine Tools that will begin producing their Alpha rocket frame in May 2021.
“High speed, robotic, large-scale automated fiber placement (AFP) machines, like those produced by Ingersoll Machine Tools, are now widely utilized in the aircraft industry. These machines essentially allow you to 3D print composite structures of very large dimensions (e.g., commercial aircraft), something that is significantly more challenging with metallic 3D printing.
The next round of AFP machines will be placed at their Space Coast manufacturing site in 2022 with the plan to eventually take over complete production of their Alpha rocket. Once their Space Coast site is up and running it could produce roughly 24 rockets a year. Their Texas site will then start producing their Beta rocket. A much more capable rocket still in development.
The benefits of using an automated system to construct the airframe will see a decrease in waste material, increased repeatability, and be able to reduce the production time and weight of the frame. Using this process Firefly will be able to produce an airframe every 14 days.