The rise of 3-D printing is changing the way companies approach manufacturing around the world. The process of creating a product layer-by-layer from a digital design can often be completed at a fraction of the time it would take for traditional manufacturing. Today, it’s possible to print everything from prosthetic limbs to parts durable enough to fly in space.
At Lockheed Martin, manufacturing lines for products like fighter jets and satellites are increasingly using additive techniques to produce prototypes, tooling and flight-ready parts. Read on to learn how we are evolving the art of 3-D printing and bringing significant cost savings to our customers.
We are using 3-D printers for prototyping parts with polymers and printing flight-ready parts with titanium, aluminum and Inconel. The size of these parts is expanding, from brackets the size of playing cards already used on our Juno spacecraft to parts that are 10 feet long and printed in room-sized machines.
For many applications, the process of additive manufacturing takes significantly less time than traditional manufacturing. Using a Sciaky printer, the preform of the 3-D printed spacecraft fuel tank pictured below can be ready in around two weeks versus 18 to 20 months prior to additive manufacturing, especially considering the time it takes to purchase or acquire raw materials.
With 3-D printing, we are realizing geometrically complex designs, features and parts that are virtually impossible to manufacture with conventional machining. This can significantly reduce the weight of parts and components and can also reduce machining time for brackets, fittings and other structures. The demo part pictured below represents the potential light-weight designs that could be used for fittings in the future.
For parts requiring flight qualification, titanium fuel tanks are the most demanding items we’ve created using additive manufacturing. These tanks operate in space under incredible internal pressure and need to survive 54Gs, as well as other environmental stresses during launch. Already, several of our parts have flown in space, including an Inconel pressure vent used for Orion and eight brackets on board the Juno spacecraft
We incorporated several automated manufacturing operations into a coordinated manufacturing cluster. The Multi-Robotic Additive Cluster is capable of using multiple material depositions and can simultaneously perform additive and subtractive machining.