Jeff Ahrstrom, chief executive officer, Ingersoll Machine Tools, spoke at The MFG Meeting 2023 event in April, presenting a compelling case for a positive and self-sustaining space economy. While describing a number of inroads to space manufacturing, Ahrstrom emphasized the ongoing requirement to move the needle on a number of emerging new and yet to be developed technologies and the necessity for the industry to get involved. Here are 10 takeaways not to be forgotten: “While smaller than in the past, manufacturing is increasingly productive, efficient, and diverse. We’re an industry embracing rapidly advancing technologies, processes, and a continual drive for quality, accuracy, and cost,” says Ahrstrom. The Space Foundation and Citibank reported that commercial space activities generated $424 billion in 2020 and $429 billion in 2021. All told, this is a 70% increase compared to 2010. “Why wouldn't you want to engage when Morgan Stanley and others who expect this industry to achieve a trillion in total revenue by 2040?” adds Ahrstrom (see news report on space industry revenue). The launch cost per kilogram during the shuttle program averaged $22,000. This dropped to $2,720 perkilogram with Elon Musk. Reducing the cost of order to kilogram is the first step in building a viable space economy.“Reusable rockets still must be manufactured, retrofitted, and maintained, and that's still a lot of stuff for you to make and profit from,” says Ahrstrom. We exist in an environment that requires years to train a machinist or an engineer and a decade or more to get them to journeyman status. This is something that is often lost on politicians and certainly lost on people that don't understand our industry. “The necessity to engage at the state and federal level is imperative if we are to maintain this nascent manufacturing renaissance, engage them early and often,” says Ahrstrom. The SLS (Space Launch System) program is a network of over 3,200 manufacturing organizations throughout the country. It’s critical to moving forward and gaining resources as manufacturers and as a nation. Half of the SLS manufacturing base is small businesses, and half of this cadre are minority women- and veteran-owned businesses. “The SLS supply chain met in Washington recently to discuss the program status following the successful Artemis One launch. It also offered an opportunity to update politicians on the importance of maintaining a strong industrial base for space manufacturing,” says Ahrstrom. The U.S. has thousands of firms involved in space manufacturing. It’s a busy industry. Ahrstrom uses a capacity utilization metric by the Bureau of Economic Research. “With the recent metric, it's important to recognize that space and defense utilization is at 140% compared to 2017 levels. Most manufacturing is running around 70%, and at 70% as a machine tool manufacturer, we're fairly happy because that means manufacturers are buying equipment. But imagine the opportunities for you as manufacturing organizations to participate in a market at 140% capacity utilization?” says Ahrstrom. We won’t move forward into a space economy with manufacturing as we know it today. Machining, grinding, and finishing will not and cannot exist outside the constraints of earth. “To realize this future radical development and groundbreaking change within manufacturing, it necessitates that we look beyond our horizon to envision manufacturing in a non-terrestrial environment,” says Ahrstrom. While not in final form, in some cases we are conceiving of the future of non-earthly manufacturing. “The presence of 3D additive manufacturing is significant at technical conferences and trade events,” says Ahrstrom. He describes how additive manufacturing is driving change throughout the capital equipment industry. Today, manufacturers can conceive of a 3D-printed lunar habitat from thermal plastic or printed metal tank hull and have already realized a space component that was 3D printed under lunar conditions. Materials will lead developments, processes, and equipment for extra-terrestrial additive manufacturing. “The material developers pull the equipment builders forward and address the challenges of this burgeoning technology and drive them to kill the obstacles and barriers,” says Ahrstrom. The advent of artificial intelligence has defined deep deployment in manufacturing, and it can simplify the design and iteration process. “Imagine when, not if, a system develops and redevelops a process based on variables such as materials, tooling, machinery used, condition of equipment and environment, work holding available and design intent. Imagine the same system, iteratively, refining part characteristics and processes within the design intent,” says Ahrstrom. Space manufacturing must be green and frugal through necessity, so the ability to use and reuse materials is another avenue for space manufacturing. “Under examination by NASA, a technology platform flown on the space station in 2019 integrated a 3D printer and a recycler, demonstrating a repeatable closed loop process of recycling plastic materials in the feedstock for additive manufacturing,” says Ahrstrom. The next development includes a dry heat stabilizer and printer to produce filament for food- and medical-grade parts. Green initiatives, our return to the moon, and the first human exploration of Mars remind manufacturers of their call to action — engage the next generation to move the industry light years forward. Gain industry insight on economic, market, and technology trends by attending AMT’s meetings and conferences. Your next opportunity to get the inside scoop on the outlook for manufacturing technology is MTForecast, October 4-6, 2023, in Detroit, Michigan. Learn more here.
Ingersoll CEO Jeff Ahrstrom delivered a keynote address at The MFG Meeting 2023 event in Phoenix that emphasized the future of space manufacturing. He outlined evidence of an active industry that was experiencing growing support and opportunities and encouraged a new generation of participation and forward thinking. Here are 10 key takeaways for manufacturers.