Raytheon Receives Funding for Aerospace 3D Printing of Optical Components

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This spring, Ohio-based America Makes, the leading collaborative partner in additive technology research, discovery, and innovation for the US, announced its latest Project Call for AXIOM, or  Additive for eXtreme Improvement in Optical Mounts. Now, subject to finalizing the details and requirements of the full contract, the awardee of the AXIOM Project Call, which is meant to support the US Air Force’s continuing technological advancements, has just been announced. The Raytheon Technologies (RTX) project team has received the $841K in funding, meant to help shake things up in the high-precision optical component market through the use of additive manufacturing.

“The AXIOM Project Call submissions were all very good and in line with our expectations given the complexity and various technical challenges put forth. Altogether, the submissions offered a range of unique and promising solutions,” stated America Makes Executive Director John Wilczynski in a press release. “The awarded RTX-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 USAF, our membership community, and the broader supply chain, the anticipated outcomes of the RTX effort will be very transformative and valuable. We congratulate RTX and its team.”

The Project Call is being funded by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, Manufacturing and Industrial Base Technology Division. Together with the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM), which manages America Makes, $560K was made available for this award, with an additional $281K coming from matching cost-share funds; together, this totals the $841K that the RTX project team will receive.

For AXIOM, the goal was to create better solutions that will, according to a press release, use additive manufacturing to create designs that will “enhance the readiness of high-precision optical components” used in space systems, sensors, and additional applications.

(Image courtesy of Raytheon Technologies)

“Currently, optical components require a challenging combination of weight, stiffness, coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE), thermal management, and dimensional tolerances,” the AXIOM Project Call states. “To meet these requirements, designs often include geometric features, manufacturing methods, and materials that can increase cost and lead time and create supply chain vulnerabilities due to the limited set of approved material sources. The project call seeks to mitigate these risks through innovative approaches, which leverage AM in conjunction with novel designs or materials to demonstrate equivalence and reliability when compared to a commercial off-the-shelf product.”

RTX is leading the project team, which also includes Raytheon Intelligence and Space (RIS), Raytheon Missiles and Defense (RMD), Raytheon Technologies Research Center (RTRC), nTopology, and Wichita State University–National Institute for Aviation Research (WSU-NIAR).

The team’s AXIOM submission, “Topology Optimized Reflective Optics (TORO),” will be working to improve upon the current strategic capabilities in optics—by improving software workflows with more conventional materials, the project aims to switch “the industrial base from known conventional designs with exotic materials” to exotic designs. This should enable the use of less toxic, more accessible materials in a laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) system in order to print manufacturing- and performance-optimized designs.

“The RTX 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,” said America Makes Technology Director Brandon Ribic, PhD.

(Image courtesy of Luxexcel)

The RTX project team expects that its TORO program will usher in several advances in additive manufacturing, such as topology optimization (TO) and design for additive manufacturing (DFAM) that allow for novel capabilities in the design of optical components and mounts, and decreased lead times.

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