Raytheon awarded $841K to advance 3D printed military optics

America Makes, an additive manufacturing innovation organization managed by the U.S. Department of Defense, has announced aerospace firm Raytheon Technologies as the awardee of its Additive for eXtreme Improvement in Optical Mounts (AXIOM) Project Call.

For its submission titled ‘Topology Optimized Reflective Optics’, the Raytheon team will receive a total of $841K in funding. The ultimate goal of the project is to “support the continued technological advantage of the U.S. Air Force” through the development of advanced, additively manufactured optical systems. Once all the contractual details have been finalized, the project is set to begin in August 2020.

The Air Force's surveillance drones rely on high-precision optics to operate. Photo via US Air Force.
The Air Force’s surveillance drones rely on high-precision optics to operate. Photo via US Air Force.

The AXIOM Project Call

AXIOM was intended as a sort of call to arms, encouraging private companies to innovate high-precision optical components using 3D printing for the benefit of the U.S. armed forces. The submissions ranged from sensor designs to space systems, with everything optics-related in between. It is funded by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM).

John Wilczynski, Executive Director of America Makes, stated: “The awarded Raytheon-led proposal details an approach that includes numerous tasks, addressing the relevant technological gaps for the design and production of additively manufactured optical mounts. For the Air Force, our membership community, and the broader supply chain, the anticipated outcomes of the Raytheon effort will be very transformative and valuable. We congratulate Raytheon and its team.”

Topology Optimized Reflective Optics

The Raytheon proposal included contributions from many of the company’s individual divisions, including Raytheon Intelligence and Space, Raytheon Missiles and Defense, and the Raytheon Technologies Research Center. Additional work was done by nTopology and Wichita State University, giving an idea of the scale of the project.

The work itself involves the development of a revamped software workflow for the laser powder bed fusion process. It is intended to allow users to more easily create topologically optimized “exotic designs” with conventional additive materials that are less toxic than the ones commonly found in the industry. As a result, Raytheon is expecting reduced lead times on performance-optimized optical mounts and components, which are in high demand in the Air Force.

America Makes Technology Director Brandon Ribic concludes: “The TORO submission was a well-thought out effort. We not only look forward to getting the project underway, but also continuing the discussion of how to best leverage additive manufacturing technologies for the benefit of those who rely on these complex components.”

Raytheon has previously worked on aerial sensors for the Air Force. Photo via US Air Force.
Raytheon has previously worked on aerial sensors for the Air Force. Photo via US Air Force.

The US Air Force already has its fair share of experience with additive manufacturing. Last month, it announced that it was using Senvol’s data-driven machine learning software to 3D print large-scale aerospace components. The program involves using an EOS multi-laser 3D printer to develop baseline mechanical properties for the production of end-use parts.

Elsewhere, the Air Force collaborated with GE to 3D print a sump cover for an F110 jet engine. Although the part itself is not a particularly dynamic one, it is still crucial for the engine to function and must act as a durable seal around the internal components.

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Featured image shows an Air Force surveillance drone. Photo via US Air Force.