Reach into your pocket and grab your sunshades. We are going on a ride that starts at Southern California’s Golden Coast and finishes somewhere into the deep unknown regions of outer space — a place where aerospace engineers combine their expertise with advanced technologies and turn the impossible into reality. It all starts at sun-soaked Space Beach in Long Beach, California, where 3D printing, materials development, innovation and curiosity collide. Strap in and enjoy.
History of Aviation Excellence
Our story begins in the Summer of 1940 when Donald Douglas, President of Douglas Aircraft Company, purchased land in Long Beach, California to support the production of military aircraft in World War II. The facility was responsible for manufacturing cargo planes and bombers. Most notably, the B-17, a four-engine bomber, and the C-47 Skytrain.
After a merger in 1967, the McDonnell Douglas Corporation began production of the DC-10 commercial aircraft, capable of carrying 380 passengers. At the time, it was one of the largest commercial planes manufactured and took flight in 1970. After many years of military and commercial aircraft manufacturing, Boeing purchased McDonnell Douglas for $13.3 billion in stock in 1996. However, in less than a decade, Boeing would close the Long Beach facility doors and put the property up for sale. Douglas Park, a 200-acre lot, would soon become a business district for the City of Long Beach. Shortly thereafter, the roots of aviation excellence began to grow within the region and help build an aerospace mecca.
Space Beach Today
Carrie Lauby, the Director of Client Partnerships at Morf3D, a longtime resident of Long Beach, describes the uniqueness that Space Beach has brought to the area that she has called home.
Carrie Lauby, the Director of Client Partnerships at Morf3D
“When I think of Space Beach, I think of sunshine rays, good coffee, and roller skating,” Lauby explains. “A vibrant place that connects some of the brightest minds in the world.”
The boom that 3D printing (3DP) has brought to the region cannot be understated, its impact has been substantial and has garnered the attention of many. Just recently, Relativity Space, became the first company to 3D print an entire rocket, and also build the largest metal 3D printer in the world. Not only that, but Relativity Space moved into a 93-acre manufacturing plant adjacent to Douglas Park.
Within the past two years, Rocket Labs, SpaceX, Virgin Orbit, and ABL Space Systems have moved major operations or manufacturing to the Port of Long Beach. Each of these major players are actively researching or integrating additive manufacturing into their prototyping and production processes. Morf3D is one of the leading aerospace additive manufacturing companies supporting the region for design, development and production additive manufacturing for mission-critical parts. When asked about the opportunity for additive manufacturing in aerospace, Lauby expresses the versatility of the technology lends well to scalability.
“In the past, it took years to establish design requirements for critical or non-critical components,” Lauby says “Now, the most successful companies are embracing additive earlier in the design phase and establishing requirements in parallel.”
Additionally, Lauby makes it clear that OEMs and traditional primes are transitioning to a more agile framework to keep up with the speed of space technology advancements.
“Designing for additive manufacturing (DfAM) has proven to increase product performance, so now the industry must create qualification systems that support scalable and repeatable results,” Lauby claims.
How Additive Manufacturing Is Applied
It’s no surprise that one of the most used metal additive material is titanium. It’s highly resistant to corrosion, has excellent strength properties and is ideal for lightweight applications. Current use cases include airframe components, blades, and even heat exchangers. The ability to create complex, internal structures with additive materials enables engineers to optimize the design and maximize performance. According to the Aerospace Additive Manufacturing Market report published by Market Research Future (MRFR), the aerospace/3DP market is forecasted to reach $31.8 billion by 2030. Much of this is predicated on the developments of titanium, copper, and other super alloys.
These aerospace companies, along with 3DP OEMs and researchers, are advancing the use of additive manufacturing faster than ever before. Keeping up with market demand requires more than just advanced technologies, it asks for innovative minds that can take us further and farther than ever before.
What Donald Douglas famously stated in 1940, still holds true today, “To do this important job we’ll need many new buildings, much new machinery, and a lot of new men. All three are necessary, but the most important single factor is manpower, for without (people) and ideas, buildings and machinery are just steel and concrete.”
The Future of Space Beach is You
As Space Beach continues to expand with world-class astronautics enterprises, so does the talent pool and the increasing number of new ideas, applications, and opportunities. According to California State University – Long Beach (CSULB), Space Beach will produce 15,000 degreed or certified engineering professionals over the next decade. Combine that with advanced technologies and materials made possible by AM, the potential to build higher performing satellites, launch vehicles, rockets, etc. becomes more practical every day. This will inevitably result in new investments and business opportunities. Look no further than the recent acquisitions and investments made by Nikon into Morf3D (2021) and SLM Solutions (2022), strategically focused on 3D printing applications in space.
Where do we go from here? AM is still just a tool, so it requires talented individuals who are capable of finding new ways to apply it. Space Beach is a hot spot for talent, where innovators and producers are shaping the future of space travel and the next generation of aero-engineering excellence.
To learn more about the history of Douglas Park, I recommend the following article by Long Beach Business Journal Editor, Samantha Mehlinger, The Storied History of Douglas Park.