3D Printing

Lockheed Martin’s Love Story with 3D Printing Is Getting Serious

The third largest US aerospace company — Lockheed Martin — just published a very detailed “love letter” directed at 3D printing technologies and to all the engineers that are making them a reality, cutting costs and times while producing better products.

There is no breaking news contained in it (other than the fact that the Juno spacecraft, now on route to Jupiter, has 3D printed parts on board, which was news to me) but the document outlines and describes very precisely all the advantages that additive manufacturing is already offering and will increasingly offer as engineers continue to find new ways to exploit its potential.

Lockheed Martin starts by comparing the additive manufacturing (third) industrial revolution to that of the assembly line (the second). “The power of additive manufacturing is the ability to dramatically reduce the cost and cycle time of prototypes, tooling and production systems,” said Steve Betza, Lockheed Martin’s Director of Advanced Manufacturing. “The additive process opens up a new world of design innovation that previously did not exist,” he added.

The company has been forming teams of additive manufacturing experts for its aircraft, satellite and other products; the main reason why the entire Group is so in love with 3D printing is the possibilities it offers to reduce the weight of components and final parts which, as it can be easily inferred, is everything when it comes to sending stuff up in the air or into orbit.

“If we break away from traditional constraints imposed by machining parts and design to additive manufacturing, we can take significant weight out of parts and our products,” said Dennis Little, Corporate Production Council Chairman and Vice President of Production at Space Systems Company

A lighter satellite means a smaller rocket and a smaller rocket means a lot less fuel: the most expensive aspect of a space mission. Reducing weight is not only about taking out material from current parts but also about designing parts differently.

“The real focus of our work is in stimulating the creativity of our design engineers and getting them to think differently about their designs. Our design engineers have been experimenting with additive manufacturing, creating extremely complex shapes and even working mechanisms that cannot be manufactured with conventional machining,” Little added.

In fact Little described the new way of thinking about industrial design in a rather “poetic”, nevertheless scientifically sound, manner.

“We’re deploying our design engineers to the factory floor, working side by side with our manufacturing engineers, where they learn what additive manufacturing is really capable of. Our experience has been engineers depend heavily on the left side of their brains, the hemisphere that favors the logical, sequential and analytical. 3D models and designs engage the right side, the hemisphere responsible for more creative and holistic thinking. When our engineers engage both their left and right brain, we are realizing geometrically complex designs, features and parts never seen before.”  

In more pratical terms, Lockheed Martin’s love story with 3D printing continues through the company’s involvement (that we have often reported on 3DPI) with America Makes. The organisation works to “accelerate additive manufacturing innovation and widespread adoption in the U.S. by bridging the gap between basic research and technology commercialization,” said America Makes Director and National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM) Vice President Ed Morris.

The goal appears to be within reach. “Our next generation of engineering leaders is already thinking in 3D,” Betza stated. “We are aggressively deploying the engineering and manufacturing capabilities that allow these future leaders to think additively and innovate with purpose.”

If you want to get a clear understanding of how Lockheed Martin views the advantages offered by additive manufacturing, check out this fresh infographic.

infographic lockheed martin 3d printing