A WEST Cork engineering company has achieved a world first with components designed for space applications.
The team at Reliance Precision Manufacturing Limited, based in Bandon, have perfected the machining of geared components from a bulk metallic glass (BMG) alloy especially selected and synthesised for space applications.
The achievement is a result of a joint collaboration between the European Space Agency (ESA), University College Dublin (UCD) and Reliance Precision.
In 2019 the ESA announced funding was being made available for R&D projects on the use of BMGs for applications in space.
BMGs are a special family of metal alloys with unique properties.
They are characterised by their amorphous structure, resulting in a material with extremely high strength, corrosion resistance, high hardness and high elastic limit.
This, coupled with the added benefit of not requiring lubrication, makes it an ideal material for use in space.
UCD formed the alliance with Reliance Precision to make a joint bid for the project.
UCD has expertise in metallurgy and, in particular, a track record of research on BMGs.
Reliance has a strong presence in the precision engineering sector, having already designed and manufactured components, such as gear mechanisms, for deployment in space.
Cylindrical BMG rod specimens were made at UCD and sent to Reliance in Bandon for machining trials.
The local manufacturing team then had to determine how best to machine the BMG rods into various shapes of precision gears.
What the Reliance team quickly realised was that whilst their standard state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment and cutting tools could be used, they needed to develop the cutting process suitable for the BMG.
The Bandon company then began their own R&D project to develop the method, which resulted in a change to the cutting parameters, as well as significant alterations to the amount of material that could be removed at any one time.
The trials were completed in December 2021, with the successful manufacture of a range of precision gears at just 6mm (1/4 inch) in diameter to high accuracy.
To mark the success of the project, outgoing county mayor and Bandon woman, Gillian Coughlan joined the Reliance Precision and UCD project teams as they hosted an event recently in Bandon, to celebrate and discuss the next steps involved for their collaboration.
‘We really enjoyed working on this project with Reliance,’ said Prof David Browne, who leads the UCD team.
‘They have always been a pleasure to work with and we have achieved a lot more together than we could ever have accomplished working alone.
‘I am looking forward to taking this work even further with our Reliance partners in Bandon and Huddersfield,’ he concluded.