Is Addition the New Subtraction at Lockheed Martin?

Lockheed Martin is investing heavily in additive engineering now with hopes of leading the industry in the near future.

Lockheed Martin is at the forefront of additive manufacturing (AM) within the aerospace industry, evident from the recent UL 3400 certification of their new facility. UL 3400 is a set of safety guidelines that address potential hazards relating to AM and Lockheed Martin’s facility is the first to receive such a certification [1]. AM presents an interesting opportunity for manufacturers around the world, giving them the ability to design and produce products in a way that has never been done before.

Through AM, parts can be produced that are lighter weight, use less overall material, create less waste and, in the context of Lockheed Martin, can reduce the fuel consumption of the spacecraft they will be used in [2]. Figure 1 below shows an example of a part that Lockheed Martin now produces using AM [3]. Prior to using AM, this part would previously have been produced using a subtractive manufacturing process which would have resulted in significantly more waste.

Figure 1: AM at Lockheed Martin

Simply looking at the advantages from the material savings shows the value that AM can bring to Lockheed Martin, but another benefit to consider is the ability to use it as a rapid prototyping tool. In traditional manufacturing the time to set up small production runs and make minor changes to a prototype can add up throughout the process. Using AM prototyping, changes to the product can be made on the spot without having to modify a mold, which means the time to produce different iterations of a part is significantly decreased [4]. Potentially more valuable to Lockheed Martin is the application for larger run manufacturing, which would allow for the ability to iterate quickly and address any issues with the design that may come up after production has started, which otherwise would be a costly and time-consuming process. The ease by which changes to a design can be made with AM is also useful to adapt to varying demand. Since the same machine can be used to produce almost all parts, limited mostly by size [5], future tooling and changeover costs can be eliminated almost completely.

Lockheed Martin is already producing parts using AM today, such as the dome that caps a high-pressure fuel tank shown in Figure 1 [6]. In the short term, Lockheed Martin is making strides to incorporate AM into other current production processes where feasible with the goal of producing its products in as little as half the amount of time and at a significantly lower cost. To accomplish this in the near term, Lockheed Martin has invested a large amount of money in a facility with the main objective of bridging the gap between material science and manufacturing relative to AM [7]. This play also ties into the medium-term plan, since the larger benefit of the research taking place at the new facility will not be realized until at least five years from now. These findings will allow the company to further utilize AM in the long term as they shift from a traditional manufacturing process with small amounts of additive to production based heavy on AM.

Lockheed Martin should take two main steps now to ensure future success within AM. The first step would be to begin investing in research to better understand the limitations of materials used with AM. Materials used in aerospace experience some of the most extreme conditions when compared to any other application, so any material chosen for this must have a high degree of confidence that it will not fail [8]. If Lockheed Martin wants to use AM going forward, which seems likely with the long list of benefits, they should be working to ensure that the material has as high of a confidence rating as the current alternatives offered today. The second thing that Lockheed Martin should consider as it moves further into AM is the current limitation of the process, which is mostly driven by size. While AM has made a lot of progress relative to size, going from printing a product that fits within a 15 cm cube to one that fits within a one-meter cube ten years later [9], there are still strides that need to be made before the larger components of spacecraft can be produced. Lockheed Martin should take this into consideration when researching new materials and consider performing research in parallel on how to scale the printable size to meet their future needs.

Is Lockheed Martin correct in attempting to be an industry leader and therefore should continue its path of innovation? Or should they instead utilize the technology that is currently available, applying it where possible, and adapt as AM continues to innovate on its own?

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Footnotes

[1] Werner, Debra. “Lockheed Martin extends additive manufacturing to key spacecraft components,” SpaceNews, November 1, 2018, https://spacenews.com/lockheed-martin-extends-additive-manufacturing-to-key-spacecraft-components/, accessed November 2018.

[2] Wee Joel Lim, Choon, et el. “An Overview of 3-D Printing in Manufacturing, Aerospace, and Automotive Industries,” IEEE Potentials 35, no. 4 (2016): 18-22. IEEE Xplore Digital Library, accessed November 2018.

[3] Pappalardo, Joe. “Lockheed Martin Is 3D-Printing Giant Titanium Space Parts,” July 12, 2018, https://www.popularmechanics.com/space/satellites/a22129376/lockheed-martin-3d-printing-titanium-fuel-tanks/, accessed November 2018.

[4] https://ieeexplore-ieee-org.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/document/7517429

[5] Werner, Debra. “Lockheed Martin extends additive manufacturing to key spacecraft components,” SpaceNews, November 1, 2018, https://spacenews.com/lockheed-martin-extends-additive-manufacturing-to-key-spacecraft-components/, accessed November 2018.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Lockheed Martin first to be certified for Additive Manufacturing safety by UL,” October 29, 2018, Metal AM, https://www.metal-am.com/lockheed-martin-first-to-be-certified-for-additive-manufacturing-safety-by-ul/, accessed November 2018.

[8] Wee Joel Lim, Choon, et el. “An Overview of 3-D Printing in Manufacturing, Aerospace, and Automotive Industries,” IEEE Potentials 35, no. 4 (2016): 18-22. IEEE Xplore Digital Library, accessed November 2018.

[9] Werner, Debra. “Lockheed Martin extends additive manufacturing to key spacecraft components,” SpaceNews, November 1, 2018, https://spacenews.com/lockheed-martin-extends-additive-manufacturing-to-key-spacecraft-components/, accessed November 2018.

[10] “Lockheed Martin Corporation.” Lockheed Martin, 2018, www.lockheedmartin.com/en-us/index.html, accessed November 2018.

 

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4 thoughts on “Is Addition the New Subtraction at Lockheed Martin?

  1. Very interesting read!

    Exploring AM’s ability to improve Lockhead’s prototyping capabilities was an unexpected and much more interesting approach than simply summarizing the material savings cost benefits. Given that this technology is so new and the concerns noted above about its structural integrity, prototyping seems like the avenue most appropriate to explore for Lockhead.

    This piece made me curious about what companies are in the best position to develop the future of AM. Is it Lockhead? Maybe, they have the industry expertise and RD budget. Or will their size, history and institutional inefficiencies prevent them from making the types of innovations that a startup might?

  2. Thanks for your thoughts, “NotMark”! I am fascinated by the implications of AM going forward, but in the case of Lockheed Martin, it also made me ponder some of the security concerns that AM may bring to the forefront. For instance, can AM systems be hacked in ways that traditional manufacturing processes cannot? With an automatic “set-up” time, which can be designed remotely, can bad actors access an AM blueprint and cause damage to something as sensitive as Lockheed’s defense system designs? While I’m confident that Lockheed invests in best-in-class secure systems, one not need look to far for examples of how even the most secure organizations and agencies can be breached by hackers. Some of these concerns are raised in an interesting piece from RAND corporation that I reference below.

    “Four Ways 3D Printing May Threaten Security”, RAND Corporation, May 8, 2018, https://www.rand.org/blog/articles/2018/05/four-ways-3d-printing-may-threaten-security.html, accessed November 2018.

  3. Lockheed Martin’s efforts to lead the way in AM will set them apart as an industry leader so long as they can maintain their UL 3400 certification. In the aerospace industry safety is paramount. Traditional materials have been tested extensively under many different environmental conditions. For AM to hold on to this new ground, Lockheed Martin (and others) will need to demonstrate reliability and safety in every application.

  4. Agreeing with Jessica that having great material scientists is crucial in keeping Lockheed’s edge in AM and leading the industry. AM does offer a great flexibility in fast prototyping and more forgiving in mistakes made during the process. Not only they should continue its path of innovation, they should also keep leading material researches for aerospace.

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