How Lockheed Martin Is Using 3D Printing To Build The Next Starship

3D printing has come a long way in a short space of time, transforming from a scientific curiosity to a legitimate manufacturing tool with almost limitless potential.

3D printing takes many forms, but all involve a computer-guided process of joining or solidifying material to create a 3D object. Originally only suitable for minimally functional or purely aesthetic objects such as prototypes, 3D printing technology is now capable of building complex machines with working parts - even firearms.

When used as an industrial production tool, 3D printing is usually referred to as additive manufacturing, and Lockheed Martin is leading the way with a dedicated 3D printing manufacturing center.

Lockheed Martin

Global safety science company UL has announced that Lockheed Martin's dedicated Additive Design and Manufacturing Center (ADMC) in California has become the first organization to be certified to UL 3400. This accreditation demonstrates that Lockheed Martin has an evidence-based set of safety guidelines which address the various hazards associated with additive manufacturing (AM) facilities.

"Employers, employees, local regulators as well as insurance companies who have to underwrite additive manufacturing facilities, were not fully aware of the inherent material and technology risks," said UL's Additive Manufacturing Lead Development Engineer, Balu V. Nair. "Safety is designed rather than built. Not a single standard or statutory guideline was available that specifically focused on additive manufacturing. Other standards and guidelines were developed for conventional manufacturing processes. We decided to address this industry need by developing a set of guidelines with exclusive focus on additive manufacturing."

The Outline of Investigation for Additive Manufacturing Facility Safety Management which makes up the UL 3400 was published last year, and the Lockheed Martin facility marks the first of its kind to meet the standards laid out within. The UL 3400 takes into consideration the safety standards of materials, equipment, and the facility itself. It also requires that all additive manufacturing machinery within the facility has been third-party accredited and that extensive and consistent workforce training be carried out regularly.

UL 3400 draws from existing safety standard frameworks laid out by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), UL, and ASTM International to name but a few.

Additive Manufacturing

The main purpose of the ADMC is to help bridge the gap between research and manufacturing, with additive manufacturing allowing concepts to be tested almost immediately and with relatively little expense. And the ADMC is putting this amazing technology to work building components for humanity's continued exploration of space.

Lockheed Martin's ADMC was used to create the Remote Interface Unit, an aluminum box which houses avionic circuits, which is to be installed on the latest US Air Force Advanced Extremely High-Frequency communications satellite - set to launch into space later in 2019.

The ADMC also recently completed quality testing on its biggest printed part to date - a dome which caps a spacecraft's high-pressure fuel tank. The fuel tanks are constructed by welding two of the 3D printed domes onto a traditionally manufactured titanium cylinder. Once the final approval is complete, Lockheed Martin will offer its aerospace clients the tanks as a standard option on its LM 2100 satellite bus - designed for 2,300 to 6,500-kilogram spacecraft.

"As more people get into the industry and companies invest more, the technology keeps getting better and better," said Engineering Senior Manager for Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Servando Cuellar. "There's a lot of new material innovation happening within industry but also here within Lockheed Martin. It's almost like computers - every three to five years, there is a new machine that's bigger and better. You must continue to invest in additive manufacturing equipment because otherwise you're going to fall behind. Ten or twenty years from now, I don't think engineers are going to be designing to machine stuff, they're going to design to print."

Final Thoughts

3D printing is presenting a great opportunity to companies involved in the manufacturing industry, empowering them to create components and parts quicker and more consistently than ever before. However, one of the most exciting applications is in closing the gap between research and manufacturing - especially in the field of aerospace engineering - such as is being demonstrated at Lockheed Martin's ADMC.

You can hear Lockheed Martin's Vice President of Digital Transformation, Jeffrey J. Wilcox speak at Connected Manufacturing Forum 2019, taking place in July at the Hilton Austin, Austin, TX.

Download the agenda today for more information and insights.

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