Additive Manufacturing and a New Revolution in Design Engineering

Additive Manufacturing and a New Revolution in Design Engineering

During the Second Industrial Revolution, engineers began to design products that could be assembled quickly and affordably using an assembly line, inspiring future industrial leaders like Henry Ford to rethink the entire design process.

In today’s world, 100 years after the introduction of the Model T assembly line, the manufacturing revolution continues as digital technology makes its way directly to the factory floor through industrial 3D printing, known as additive manufacturing.  

“The power of additive manufacturing is the ability to dramatically reduce the cost and cycle time of prototypes, tooling and production systems,” said Steve Betza, Lockheed Martin’s Director of Advanced Manufacturing. “In addition, the additive process opens up a new world of design innovation that previously did not exist.”

Over the past decade, Lockheed Martin has formed multiple teams of experts from across the company’s five business areas to advance the process of additive manufacturing for aircraft, satellites and other Lockheed Martin products. In fact, additively manufactured components are now on their way to Jupiter onboard the Juno spacecraft, which will arrive and begin orbiting the planet in July 2016. 

Speaking of the Future: Advanced Manufacturing

“The real home run is taking out weight,” said Dennis Little, Corporate Production Council Chairman and Vice President of Production at Space Systems Company. “If we break away from traditional constraints imposed by machining parts and design to additive manufacturing, we can take significant weight out of parts and our products.”

Reducing the weight of our products can result in huge benefits for Lockheed Martin customers. For example, reducing the weight of a satellite reduces the size of the rocket and amount of fuel needed to launch, or allows for a larger payload using the same size rocket and fuel. The rocket is one of the most expensive parts of the mission.

“The real focus of our work is in stimulating the creativity of our design engineers and getting them to think differently about their designs. Our design engineers have been experimenting with additive manufacturing, creating extremely complex shapes and even working mechanisms that cannot be manufactured with conventional machining,” Little said. 

The company has made a commitment to investing in additive manufacturing, and even more importantly, an investment in our people.

“We’re deploying our design engineers to the factory floor, working side by side with our manufacturing engineers, where they learn what additive manufacturing is really capable of,” Little said. “Our experience has been engineers depend heavily on the left side of their brains, the hemisphere that favors the logical, sequential and analytical. 3D models and designs engage the right side, the hemisphere responsible for more creative and holistic thinking. When our engineers engage both their left and right brain, we are realizing geometrically complex designs, features and parts never seen before.” 

In addition to tapping into our inner Da Vinci, we’re also investing millions to join our peers from other sectors of U.S. manufacturing to explore ways we can bring transformative additive projects from the lab to real-world production.

Government, industry and academia are now partnering to accelerate the development and adoption of cutting-edge manufacturing technologies through the  National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI). Lockheed Martin has committed to a five-year partnership as a Lead Member of America Makes, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, to support the goal of growing the country’s capabilities in this emerging technology. 

“On behalf of all of us at America Makes, we are of course delighted that Lockheed Martin recognizes the importance of additive manufacturing and 3D printing to its portfolio of core competencies, along with the collaboration benefits available from being an active member of America Makes,” said America Makes Director and National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM) Vice President Ed Morris.

“3D printing is a game changer because it has a whole new set of rules. When you change the rules, you change the game,” Morris said. “3D printing using only the material required for the finished part radically reduces the use of excess and often expensive material and takes less time to create, which combine to yield a lower product cost."

3D Printing Infographic


The America Makes mission is to accelerate additive manufacturing innovation and widespread adoption in the U.S. by bridging the gap between basic research and technology commercialization.”  

The pace is quickening, and ultimately, Betza sees a world where design engineers innately think in three dimensions, increasingly driven by the availability of 3D polymer printers in the marketplace for less than $2,000.

“Our next generation of engineering leaders is already thinking in 3D,” Betza said. “We are aggressively deploying the engineering and manufacturing capabilities that allow these future leaders to think additively and innovate with purpose.” 

May 27, 2014

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