May 19, 2014

Lockheed Martin, the Pentagon's biggest supplier, is implementing 3D printing and 3D pathfinding simulation technology to improve affordability of producing national security satellites.

The company expects to finalize the details of a government contract to buy two new missile-warning satellites for 40 percent less than initially estimated by Pentagon, because of new additive manufacturing methods, plant closures and layoffs.

"We're trying to find new ways of doing things." Mark Valerio, vice president and general manager of military space for Lockheed, told Reuters in an interview at the company's facility south of Denver.

Valerio said Lockheed was pushing hard to keep the cost low so it could still maintain operating profits even U.S. government announced a significant cut in the military spending. "We haven't hit a wall yet," he said. "But that's when you bring in technology."

Most of the military satellite cost more than $1 billion to build because it is difficult to achieve the economies of scale with large volumes. Lockheed executives expect additive manufacturing, or 3D printing could help to reduce cost, cycle time and material waste. 60 percent of its satellites relies on outside suppliers, Lockheed says its engineers are evaluating which satellite components could be 3D printed in-house.

Dennis Little, vice president of Production, demonstrates 3D printing technology

Lockheed Martin is using 3D printing to print titanium satellite parts. In the process, titanium is heated and then applied in successive layers to create almost any shape. When a product is printed using additive manufacturing, waste is minimized and cycle time is drastically reduced. Lockheed Martin is currently using this process to develop printed satellite parts and plans to continue expanding the process in the future to complex parts and maybe even full satellites. And the light-weighted satellite would allow the government to pack on more sensors, or launch satellites on smaller, less expensive rockets.

Dennis Little, vice president of production, said he was confident the government would eventually approve use of 3D printed parts on the new SBIRS and other military satellites. "We'll get there; it's not that hard," he said.

3D printed parts has up to now been used on Lockheed's interplanetary Juno aircraft launched in 2011, and the company's revamped A2100 commercial satellites. Valerio said Lockheed was also working on using the new manufacturing technology to build propulsion tanks.

"In the next decade, we will completely change the way a satellite is designed and built. We will print a satellite," he said. "It's real. We're flying it on satellites now."

Besides 3D printing, Lockheed Martin is also using company's "digital tapestry," a digital environment using 3D pathfinding simulation technology where designers can identify areas to improve affordability and operational excellence throughout the entire lifecycle of the products.

Last year, Lockheed signed a deal with the Air Force for a separate program to build two military communications satellites for $2.2 billion, $1 billion less than initially expected. This year Lockheed had signed another agreement with the Air Force on the 5th and 6th Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) missile-warning satellites, which will be finalized by early July.

"From 3D virtual pathfinding simulations to 3D printing, we are using innovative digital technology to streamline the manufacturing process for lower cycle times and reduced costs for our customers." Little said.

"In this industry, we have to continuously lean forward to new technologies to stay affordable, efficient and reliable for our customers."


Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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Daniel Hendrix wrote at 8/2/2015 12:59:21 AM:

I am looking fro 3D printing companies that do GSA contracting work? I have customers with needs for the 3D printing of Micro Electronics such as sensors and 1.5 volt batteries etcetera. Thanks, Dan H.

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