Gravity Industries Strives For ‘Superhuman Flight’ With 3D Printing Powered eSuit


British jetpack maker Gravity Industries has teamed up with 3D printing service provider Ricoh 3D to develop a next-generation electric version of its human flight suit.

Known as the ‘Gravity eSuit’, the upgraded jetpack features a range of flexible 3D printed polypropylene (PP) internal flow parts, which not only provide ventilation, but organically adapt to the wearer, giving the impression that it flies independently. Designed to “mix mind, body and machine”, Gravity Industries’ latest Iron Man-type costume is set to debut at the 2021 Goodwood Festival of Speed.

“We’ve had an incredible journey with Gravity Industries so far. AM has helped them take what might seem like an impossible idea and turn it into reality, exploiting the unique properties of PP, ”said Mark Dickin, responsible for Ricoh’s European 3D printing operations. “By pushing the boundaries with 3D printing and PP, we are showing what is possible when you have the right expertise and ingenuity. “

“3D printed polypropylene is 90% recyclable, lightweight and flexible while being incredibly durable, perfect for flying. “

Gravity flies away

Since it was first developed by its Chief Test Pilot Richard Browning in 2016, Gravity’s jetpack has successfully hosted 105 live flight events in 31 countries, including military and research demonstrations. and rescue in the UK. In one such instance, the jetpack was even used to conduct a “visit, board, search and seize” exercise, during which Browning was able to “infiltrate” HMS Tamar by flying on board while in motion.

Now in its third iteration, the Gravity Jet Suit features two miniature jet engines on each arm, along with a fifth housed in its backpack. By creating over 300 pounds of thrust with its 1,050 horsepower engines, the device would be able to propel a 200-pound person for seven minutes, albeit at an astronomical price of $ 440,000.

In the past, Gravity has partnered with 3T Additive Manufacturing to print aluminum-based arm mounts for its jetpack, which not only proved to be lighter but helped integrate multiple parts into a single streamlined unit, and the company has now taken a similar approach to working with Ricoh 3D, with the goal of optimizing the design of its next electric flight suit.

“I’ve always had a passion for unusual challenges and adventure into the unknown, so it’s amazing to see the dream come to life,” said Browning. “We have built an incredible global footprint since [Gravity was founded in] 2017, and Ricoh enabled us to turn an “impossible” idea into something viable for production. “

Gravity founder Richard Browning is testing the company’s current version of the Jet Suit. Photo via Gravity Industries.

Presentation of the “eSuit”

At the start of R&D for its new eSuit, Gravity looked to find a material that could mimic organic matter, but also be able to fly, comfortable and safe. To achieve this, the company turned to Ricoh 3D printing and its flagship product PP, which has since provided the flexibility to prototype with end-use materials, accelerating the development of its next-generation suit.

In doing so, Gravity was also able to iteratively refine its jetpack design without making new casts or starting from scratch, reducing the time required to manually build a base riveted aluminum suit structure from two weeks to just 24 hours. of 3D. printing and two days of editing.

In addition, the strength, lightness and flexibility inherent in PP has allowed Gravity to significantly reduce the number of parts in its eSuit, integrating multiple assemblies into one. The resulting multifunctional units have fewer glued or bolted components and feature internal flow parts that move air through the suit, which Ricoh says “will push the boundaries of what we think humans are capable of. “.

“Ricoh is an expert in AM, which has helped us produce the Jet Suits to the standards and quality we were looking for,” said Sam Rogers, chief designer of Gravity. “There was no need to produce hundreds of prototypes, so the process was much simpler and allowed us to focus on what really matters: overcoming the impossible and creating a costume that perfectly augments the human body. “

“Thanks to PP and its organic nature, people see a human flying when someone is in the Jet Suit. They are not strapped to a device or sitting in a vehicle, they actually appear to be flying.

Advances in AM rocket engines

Of course, jetpack technology remains at an early stage of development, but 3D printing has also been used to manufacture rocket engines on a larger scale with high efficiency in the aerospace industry. In May 2021, propulsion systems maker Aerojet Rocketdyne announced that an upgraded version of its RL10 rocket engine optimized for 3D printing had passed NASA’s hot-shot tests.

In the same vein, the American space technology start-up Rocket Crafters Inc (RCI), recently completed the first tests of its 3D-printed Comet Series hybrid rocket engine. Carried out over a series of 49 lab tests, the company’s latest test shots were designed as a full-scale proof of concept ahead of a planned test flight.

NASA itself has also experimented with 3D printed rocket engine components, performing 23 hot fire tests on two of these parts in December of last year. In early evaluations, the copper alloy combustion chamber and iron-nickel superalloy nozzle were found to be able to withstand the extreme heat to which they were typically exposed during spaceflight.

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The image shown shows Gravity founder Richard Browning testing the existing version of the company’s Jet suit. Photo via Gravity Industries.

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