Manufacturing a Composite Rocket Fuel Tank

This is an interesting video from NASA showing the manufacture of what appear to be different composite spacecraft parts including a fuel tank.

The center piece here is an articulated robot mounted on a “seventh” linear axis with a automated fiber placement end effector.  The end effector heats the area and applies strips of resin impregnated composite “tape.”  The whole process requires a high level of motion control especially with a rotating work piece.

I’m not an expert on the process but it’s easy to have an appreciation for the new manufacturing processes required by high performance composites.

The pair of blue “post” style machines in the beginning of the video appear to be testing for voids in the finished part.

Ultrasonic Void Testing Composite Tank Robot Composite Tank AFP

Stewart Platform Mill

The Giddings and Lewis Variax mill.

They were definitely thinking outside the box on this one.  Interesting concept but some of the claimed advantages seem dubious. The machining envelope appears limited for the size of the machine and the control enclosure is never shown in frame.  The tool changer seems like a bit of a kludge and makes the whole system difficult to guard – everything would need to be isolated and caged as a cell.  Work piece access also appears difficult and would require a lot of reaching and bending at the waist.

I’ll give them credit for trying something new and developing the concept as far as they did.

Stewart Platform Mill Mill Tool Changer

The Enginoor


The goal of this site is for me to share engineering videos, topics, or stories that I personally find interesting. I plan to cover a lot of automation, mechanical design, and maybe provide some light analysis. If you’re into machinery or manufacturing expect to see a lot of really cool stuff here.

I am a BSME and have a background in aerospace assembly, manufacturing automation, and machine tool design.