Lockheed Martin is expanding its 3-D (additive) printing competencies throughout its aerospace and defence enterprise. Brian O’Connor, Lockheed Martin Vice President of Production Operations, briefly commented on the state-of-the-art for this technology, pointing out: “Our 3-D printed hybrid tanks are now qualified across our LM 2100 satellite bus fleet, so any future DoD order with this powerful geostationary platform can take advantage of this low-cost part. Additionally, we’re reducing weight and cost on satellites and missiles with 3-D printed structural components like brackets and backshells. We are also researching how to 3-D print RF components, like waveguides and conformal antennas.”
At the programmes level, Lockheed Martin has already flown 3-D printed parts in space, and its first components launched are also the farthest flown. “The brackets are aboard NASA’s Juno spacecraft, traveling nearly 2 billion miles (and counting),” Mr O’Connor noted. “For the military, we’re already using our second-largest 3-D printed part—an electronics box enclosure—on the sixth Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite, which is currently in production. Applications don’t stop at spacecraft. In 2016 we flew the first 3-D printed parts on the Fleet Ballistic Missile, and we have more additive components proposed for that programme.”
What’s next for this LM technology competency? First and foremost, Lockheed Martin is scaling up additive parts in both size and complexity. Its biggest part qualified for space two years ago was the size of a toaster. “Now, it’s big enough to sit in. We’re working toward a future where we can 3-D print an entire satellite, and that includes competencies in printing payload components. We’re well on our way to do that with additive RF waveguides research and 3-D printing conformal antennas using proprietary nanomaterials,” the industry expert remarked.
Lockheed Martin is working with a number of materiel across the space and missile defence enterprise in 3-D printing, including titanium, aluminium, Inconel, steel, polymers and metallic nanomaterials.
At the end of the day, 3-D printing is increasingly found across a product life cycle – and with good reasons. Mr O’Connor concluded: “3-D printing not only helps with product applications, but in engineering and on the assembly lines for those products. We’ve produced thousands of prototypes and tooling using 3-D printing, mostly plastic. Those quick-turn parts also help us speed programme timelines and ultimately save cost.”