Lockheed Martin Receives Contract to Further Develop 3D Printing for Aerospace Manufacturing

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[Image: Lockheed Martin]

Aerospace company Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor, has become a prominent user of 3D printing. Its 3D printed innovations include propulsion tanks and parts for spacecraft and missiles, and recently it completed its largest 3D printed components thus far. Now the company’s work with 3D printing will be expanding, thanks to a new $5.8 million contract with the Office of Naval Research.

Lockheed Martin and the Office of Naval Research will be investigating the use of artificial intelligence to train robots to independently oversee the 3D printing of complex components. They are customizing multi-axis robots that will deposit material using laser beams. The two organizations are working together to develop software models and sensor modifications to help the robots build better parts, with the goal being for the robots to monitor the process and make adjustments on their own during printing to achieve the correct material properties.

“When you can trust a robotic system to make a quality part, that opens the door to who can build usable parts and where you build them,” said Zach Loftus, a Lockheed Martin fellow for additive manufacturing. “Think about sustainment and how a maintainer can print a replacement part at sea, or a mechanic print a replacement part for a truck deep in the desert. This takes 3-D printing to the next, big step of deployment.”

The team will vet common types of microstructures used in a 3D print, measure how the 3D printers perform, and align them with the microstructures. They will then gauge the performance of the material properties to develop a working system. The team will be starting with Ti-6AI-4V, the most common titanium alloy, and will integrate related research with seven national lab, university and industry partners.

The contract comes after an investment Lockheed Martin made in June in nTopology, which creates additive manufacturing design and optimization software. Lockheed Martin has been involved in 3D printing for a long time, but its activities this year show that the company is serious about continuing to invest in the technology well into the future. This is good news for Lockheed’s many clients, who will benefit from 3D printing technology’s ability to create complex parts in less time and with less cost.

The Office of Naval Research contract isn’t the only one awarded to Lockheed Martin in the past week. The company was also given a $632 million contract to produce Hellfire II missiles for the Netherlands and Japan. The US Army’s Hellfire missile replacement, the joint air-to-ground missile, or JAGM, was cleared for low-rate initial production in June. They will fire from a broad range of platforms including rotary and fixed-wing aircraft as well as ground vehicles, boats and unmanned aircraft.

These missiles will be produced at Lockheed Martin’s facilities in Orlando, Florida, with the work estimated to be completed in 2021.

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