Thursday May 9th, 2024

Case Study: Producing the “Keurig” for the International Space Station through Complex CNC Machining

The Leech Industries team is adept at handling all stages of production and offers turnkey contract manufacturing services for high-mix parts. Complexity is our sweet spot. That’s why we embraced the challenge head-on when a leader in the science and technology space approached our team to build intricate components for a crucial application.

In this project, which we’ve coined the “NASA Project,” our team developed pieces for the heating apparatus that went into the water reclamation and treatment system on the International Space Station.

Read on to learn more about how our sweet spot in high-mix components yielded an indispensable component for space.

Challenge: Create an Intricate Assembly with a Highly Critical End Use

Access to clean, safe water is essential to the health of the individuals at the International Space Station. Supply is limited to the amount on hand, so every drop counts. The Leech team fully embraced the critical nature of this component’s function and its no-fail requirements.

The specifications for these parts included how water could be heated and stored, and how it could flow through the assembled system. The temperature needed to be applied from outside and convected throughout, which requires a heated water storage device. Additionally, water had to flow from the top, traveling down in a spiral formation without collecting even in the tiniest of cavities. Collected water would be at risk of growing bacteria, mold, and fungus, which could lead to contamination. For this reason, the surface finish needed to be free of any recesses, no matter how small, that could potentially trap moisture and lead to unwanted pollutants.

The intricacies of this part also created challenges related to tool paths and machining methods. The component called for incredibly tight tolerances to ensure a perfect fit within the assembly. Additionally, the piece’s size proved to be somewhat of a challenge. At just shy of 11 inches in diameter, the piece isn’t exactly a monstrosity. However, given the intricate features and precise tolerancing requirements, size created an additional hurdle.

With a critical application and extremely precise requirements, this part would not be easy, but our highly-qualified team was up for the challenge!

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Solution: Leech’s Machining Expertise and High-End Equipment

To meet the exact specifications required for this filtration system, our team developed a heater core and a heater core sleeve using aluminum and helicoils. Taking no liberty in the design and engineering phase ensured compliance with the design and enabled us to achieve tolerances as close as possible to the nominal. 

With intricate details on both the inner and outer diameter of the part, we needed to determine the most efficient order of operations. First, our team got creative, developing custom fixturing to prevent the piece from any shifting during machining. 

Then, utilizing our 9-axis Integrex machine, our expert CNC machining team meticulously crafted the heater core and sleeve from a solid billet of material. This process involved intricate machining operations to achieve the tight tolerances and complex geometries essential for the water reclamation and treatment system's functionality.

Thanks to the Leech team’s expertise and high standards, we exceeded expectations on this part, which still serves a necessary purpose in the International Space Station.

Our Exceptional Quality Assurance

At Leech Industries, we’re known for our exceptional quality control standards. No matter the complexity or final application, our machinists check part dimensions. For critical parts such as the heater core for the NASA Project, our team took even greater care, ensuring perfection during machining and sending the component through our inspection lab for a full 100-percent dimensional workup.

When components require outside services such as heat treating or plating, our vendors coordinate their own quality inspections and offer our team certifications verifying exceptional quality. When sending components to customers, we provide quality documentation from all in-house testing and inspections handled by our trusted vendors. During the NASA Project, our customer performed a full evaluation to validate the certifications we provided and were extremely satisfied with the results.

Quality is a non-negotiable in all our component manufacturing services; these high standards won us the bid on this part in the first place. Our customer was installing this component into an expensive piece of equipment and launching it into space, and they needed to have the utmost confidence in the manufacturer supplying this essential component – that’s why they selected Leech Industries.

Trust Leech Industries for Quality and Complexity

Our ability to support turnkey solutions on a component that ensures the health of individuals during space exploration demonstrates our confidence in delivering complex parts with unmatched precision and reliability. By successfully manufacturing components for the water reclamation and treatment system, the Leech Industries team has aligned itself as a strategy partner with expertise in precision machining and a commitment to quality.

Whether you require a complex component for space or intricate parts at volume, request a quote to get started. 

LEECH Industries

13144 Dickson Road
Meadville, PA 16335