Eliana Fu is the Senior Raw Materials Supply Chain Engineer at Relativity Space. If you are not familiar with Relativity Space, they are creating the rocket factory of the future, using additive manufacturing! Educated at Imperial College, University of London (Masters and PhD in Materials Science), Eliana also holds a Post Docs from Loughborough University (UK) and Clemson University (USA). Before joining Relativity Space, Eliana worked at Firth Rixson Rings (Rotherham, UK), TIMET (Henderson, NV) and SpaceX (Hawthorne, CA).
Eliana, could you let us know about your background and what brought you into 3D printing in the first place?
I am a metallurgist with specialization in titanium. I spent most of my career working in traditional wrought product metallurgy but 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing is the next exciting development for materials science. I really wanted to get involved and play a part in developing this exciting technology.
What was your very first experience with 3D Printing?
I was first exposed to this technology when working as a project leader at TWI Ltd in Sheffield UK, where Additive Manufacturing technologies were being developed at the AMRC (Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre) in partnership with other organizations such as TWI and CTI (Casting Technologies). It is a disruptive technology that has helped to regenerate the metals industry in Sheffield and other places in the world which have been home to traditional metals production. It is also changing the way we want to think about manufacturing launch vehicles for space exploration and overturning the way we design parts, increasing the speed of iterative development and reducing waste.
Could you explain furthermore what Relativity Space is and what you’re working on?
Relativity Space is the only organization in the world whose core mission is to 3D print an entire rocket! We are a tech start-up based in Los Angeles developing the technologies and materials in order to launch a vehicle into space, with as much of it 3D printed as possible. Our vision is to someday be able to print a rocket on the planet Mars and return to Earth.
What are some of the challenges you’re coming across when planning on launching a fully 3D printed rocket into space?
The fact that nobody has ever done this before makes it scary and exciting at the same time. Most of the challenges center around the materials and the processing: these encompass such issues as: 1. that the printed material must have adequate strength to resist gravitational forces to withstand leaving earth’s atmosphere, 2. that processing of printed parts is robust enough so that they are able to maintain their designed geometry without distortion from residual stress and do not suffer from indications like voids, porosity, lack of fusion etc, 3. That the raw materials supply chain is ready to handle production of the incoming metal stock in powder or wire form… These are just a few of the issues we need to deal with when thinking about how to go about making a fully 3D printed rocket that will be launched into space.
By when do you think we’ll be able to have a 3D printed rocket launch?
Relativity’s targeted and ambitious first flight is late 2020 so we are working furiously to meet that timeline. Follow us on Linkedin and social media for updates!
Do you have any (fun or not) story about the company or your career to share with us?
I only started with the company recently but my experience in traditional metals industry has prepared me for the challenges ahead. It’s going to be very tough with lots of work ahead of us but at the same time very exciting. In my career, however, the funniest thing that has happened to me was being voted Miss Titanium 2014 by TMS. Nobody has ever challenged me for it so I’ll keep it until questioned.
Have you run into any challenges from being a woman in 3D printing?
The other day I made a cup of tea for a couple of contractors and they mistook me for the receptionist. They were suitably embarrassed. I simply told them not to confuse being friendly to guests with boring old gender stereotypes.
Anything exciting coming up you’d like us to know about?
We have signed a 20-year lease agreement with NASA to use their test fire stand in Stennis, MI and will be conducting engine tests there soon. We also have some ambitious technical goals which we’ll announce in due course so stay tuned!
What is the most impressive or impactful use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far? (besides 3D printing a rocket!)
Probably the titanium partial rib cage implanted into a living subject, that’s literally saved someone’s life!!
What do you consider game-changing technologies in additive manufacturing?
Printing new parts,radical designs, pushing the limits of what can be done.
What makes the 3D printing industry particularly interesting for you:
As a business person?
The opportunities in the Supply Chain for both traditional and Additive Manufacturing are immense as they are
As a woman?
Anyone, male or female, can get hold of a 3D printer and operate it. It’s not hard. You just have to set your mind to it. It’s not insurmountable.
What do you think of the 3D printing industry today? And how would you like to see it evolve?
The design allowable are still being generated and there is not enough consistency from part to part or machine to machine. The technology is still in its infancy.
In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?
It’s not so much 3D printing itself that women do not enter, it’s the STEM world altogether that they tend not to enter for whatever reason. Females need to be encouraged at an early age, the younger the better, in maths, science and technology, from early school days and at home. Everyone is responsible: parents, teachers, friends and family. Early engagement is the key.
Favorite 3D tool (could be a software, machine, material…you name it)? Titanium: the most versatile metallic engineering material, lightweight and corrosion resistant yet with the same strength as steel but can also be 3D printed, it’s amazing
Favorite moment in your day job? Seeing a part or object come to life out of seemingly nowhere
What’s on your 3D Printing wishlist for the next 5 years? Equipment manufacturers need to work more closely with materials suppliers, designers need to understand materials properties as a result of working with this non-traditional method of manufacture. Consensus amongst space and aerospace community about how to develop design allowables and what level of risk for human flight or air travel needs to be established very quickly.
Thank you for reading and for sharing!