Then and Now: Mapping the Future of Manufacturing


Imagine a world in which we can 3-D print a full size cargo plan or design a new material that can change its shape mid-flight for increased performance.

We’re closer than you think. In fact, we’re in the midst of a manufacturing revolution—additive manufacturing, digital technologies, next-generation electronics and advanced materials are paving the way for this transformation of the manufacturing industry.

We’re progressing from paper drawings and physical prototypes to designing and testing a product in a fully virtual environment. Carbon fiber is replacing steel and aluminum, and no longer are parts always shipped from across the world; rather, downloaded and 3-D printed.

So what’s next? Those seeking a glimpse of future manufacturing innovations should look no further. We’ve dusted off our past to show you how far manufacturing has come and where it’s headed.



Caption: (Left) Vega Airplane Company, subsidiary of the Lockheed Aircraft Company, B-17 assembly line in 1942. (Right) Skunk Works is home to the world’s largest gantry-style Automated Fiber Placement machine.

Everything in the factories of the future will run smarter. Manually assembling large, complex machines is a thing of the past. Up and down the F-35 production line today, workers use precision instruments, projected digital work instructions and automated equipment, while always referring back to the digital system model, to manufacture the world’s most advanced fighter.

And we didn’t just stop there–many F-35 program components use lightweight composite materials–replacing heavier and less flexible metallic components. By bringing innovations like this directly to the shop floor, we’re reducing costs and improving the quality of our products.



Caption: (Left) Mechanics performing manual operations using hand tools on the assembly lines during war production efforts in 1941. (Right) Lockheed Martin Space Systems’ Collaborative Human Immersive Laboratory (CHIL) allows engineers to virtually design products and optimize production timelines. 

Manufacturing is going digital. Think avatars, three-dimensional worlds and virtual simulations. We’ve gone from hand drills to handheld computers on the assembly floor.

We’ve blended the digital and physical world to optimize every phase of our production and operations process. We call this revolution the Digital Tapestry. Before the physical creation of a product, our engineers and manufacturing professionals strap on a pair of goggles and step into a virtual world.

By turning creators into avatars, our Collaborative Human Immersive Laboratory (CHIL) allows them to explore their products in an active, hands-on approach. This way, they can validate that each manufacturing technique is proven before it even hits the production line.

3-D Printing


Caption: (Left) The Agena was the upper stage of the Atlas rocket. It was the first to propel spacecraft on flights past Mars and Jupiter and its engine was notable for its unusual aluminum construction (Right) Juno’s composite structure takes inspiration from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and much of its design and production techniques influenced the structure of other planetary spacecraft like MAVEN and OSIRIS-REx.

Among the most innovative digital production techniques given life by the manufacturing revolution is 3-D printing—a subset of additive manufacturing. In some cases, 3-D printed parts take less time to produce and often reduce costs.

Already, several of our 3-D printed parts have flown in space, including four pressure vents on the 2014 test flight of the Orion crew module and eight brackets onboard the Juno spacecraft. In fact, Juno is carrying the first additively manufactured parts flown in space 1.74 million miles to Jupiter’s orbit.

Our Advanced Technology Center (ATC) in Sunnyvale, California, is dedicated to producing game-changing advancements in the manufacturing space, from additive manufacturing to materials science. Once proven, innovations born in the ATC are integrated into our production lines for space products. Similarly, our Advanced Technology Laboratories (ATL) looks beyond current requirements to envision future capabilities and needs. Currently, ATL is researching ways to fast track development of materials for new military assets such as hypersonic platforms.

With each technical milestone, we’re accelerating the development and adoption of cutting-edge manufacturing technologies for making new, globally competitive products.

As we celebrate this year’s Manufacturing Day, we’re working with academia to train students, investing in new manufacturing technologies and empowering current and future engineers to learn and apply new skills. 

Ready to be inspired? Explore how Lockheed Martin is breaking new ground in additive manufacturing, advanced materials, digital manufacturing and next-generation electronics.