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3 Takeaways from the Space Tech Expo from a Contract Manufacturing Perspective

Contract Manufacturing Opportunities at Space Tech Expo

With the space industry becoming more competitive every day, the Space Tech Expo was the perfect place to hear about the current state of the industry, see advanced technology on display, and discover opportunities in the field of contract manufacturing.

Held recently in Pasadena, CA, the event was not only well attended, but also expertly planned and executed by Gordon McHattie and his team. Pasadena was a great choice of venue, with its proximity to NASA’s JPL, as well as its wide selection of restaurants and attractions. I highly recommend the USC Pacific Asian Museum, featuring an extensive collection of Asian art and artifacts, as well as a beautiful courtyard complete with gardens and a koi pond.

Read on as I share some highlights from my time at the show.

1. State of the Industry

The expo’s conference speakers were key players from the private, civil and military space sectors. I was able to attend one of the free conference sessions on the exhibition floor given by Neil Golke, Strategic Supply Chain Manager, Lockheed Martin Space Systems. Neil’s talk was a helpful overview on Lockheed’s space business, as well as tips on how to do business with the company.

In addition, I learned that large players in the space industry are actively reaching out to small and minority businesses. I spoke with small business representatives from Orbital ATK, known for developing advanced space systems. Opportunities to connect with those in the industry are always welcome to keep Keller Technology Corporation (KTC) moving forward.

2. Advanced Technology

The show floor featured a broad array of products and services offered by suppliers to the space industry, both large and small. Amid some of the advanced technology on display were booths featuring machine shops with high-end technical capabilities.

As I walked the show floor and spoke with many of the exhibitors, it became clear to me that the space industry is undergoing some rapid changes brought on by the emerging commercial space market. The traditional space culture is being confronted with the entrepreneurial mindset and cost pressures from private sector companies, ranging from SpaceX down to small sat manufacturers.

These changes are creating some challenges. Jim Carr, Strategic Account Manager from Fralock, shared that while the space industry is becoming more competitive, there is hesitation to embrace new technology. In my opinion, adapting the risk-based approach utilized in the medical device industry KTC serves may help enable innovation and change, while preserving the reliability that is critical to flight hardware.

3. Contract Manufacturing Opportunities

For many emerging applications in the private space sector, proven technology with strong flight heritage is not economically feasible. In some cases, such as satellite constellations, flight hardware must be produced in higher quantities and cannot bear the costs of traditional manufacturing methods. Engineers are now facing compromises that they would historically not have had to consider in the past.

That being said, there does seem to be a growing adaptation to new technology and materials borne out of the cost pressures that companies face. An example of this that was on display at the expo was 3D printing. It seems that like other industries, 3D printing is taking the space industry by storm. Large companies like Lockheed Martin have already taken the initiative and are starting to implement additive manufacturing for the production of satellite parts to reduce cost and lead time.

There would also appear to be opportunities for companies like KTC that has traditionally been aligned toward working with the medical and semiconductor industries to build flight hardware. Many of the same skillsets and systems required for these industries—such as stringent quality management, documentation, traceability, clean room assembly, and functional testing—are also required for the space industry. The medical and semi equipment industries have been dealing with the cost pressures that are starting to emerge for space companies for quite some time now.

Do you need assistance with a unique contract manufacturing project? Keller can help. Contact us today for more information.

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