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Lockheed Martin Looks to Catch Up in 3D Printing

Ilene Wolff
By Ilene Wolff Contributing Editor, SME Media

With all of its accomplishments – including world’s largest defense contractor, and a presence in all 50 states and 70 countries – you might think Lockheed Martin (Bethesda, MD) would already have mastered additive manufacturing.

But like manufacturers around the world, some of Lockheed’s experts are struggling to answer questions posed by 3D printing, according to Robert Ghobrial, additive manufacturing lead for the company’s training and simulation location in Orlando, FL.

“Should we invest in the technology today or wait until it’s faster and cheaper?” Ghobrial has asked himself. “Should we have a centralized or localized printing model?”

Ghobrial spoke at SME’s “Additive Manufacturing Applications: Innovations for Growth” seminar in October, at advanced energy technology accelerator NextEnergy, in Detroit.

He traced his work with 3D printing back to 2012, when his team received some MakerBot printers that largely went unused. Even as recently as 2014, he was mostly making trinkets from the Thingiverse digital design company, Ghobrial said.

“Here I was printing Yoda heads,” Ghobrial joked with the audience. “Saying ‘Trust us, trust us, we can make your parts’.”

Then, that same year, 2014, Ghobrial’s team got its first production 3D printer, a Stratasys Fortus.

“So with this printer, we had the means to make real parts,” he said.

Along the way, Ghobrial coined the phrase, “The 5Ps of Additive Manufacturing™,” a manufacturing model that describes how AM can help aerospace, defense and other businesses.

Here are the 5 Ps:

  • Proposal: 3D printing can make giveaways at trade shows; architectural and space models; and aid in customer/client communication. For example, a 3D printed, scaled model of the Sikorsky helicopter gave Ghobrial’s group a way to quickly translate the customer’s vision into a physical replica that everyone could see and touch.
  • Prototype: 3D printed prototypes help with design validation and proof of concept development. Downstream in the design phase, the prototypes help secure subject matter expert buy-in at technical interchange meetings, and preliminary and critical design reviews.
  • Procurement: Can we make something vs. buying it? How can AM decrease our supply chain risk, transportation and inventory costs?
  • Production Support: 3D printing can support production by helping make assembly fixtures, manufacturing tooling, production templates, inspection fixtures and machine safeguards.
  • Production: AM can produce end-use parts; make parts on demand for spares, warranty and repairs support; and even manage obsolescence.

“Many of the systems that the Department of Defense procures will be in service for decades,” Ghobrial explains about managing obsolescence in an email after the seminar. “When the DoD places an order for a system, subsystem, or component because of a broken one in the field, for example, the original manufacturer or supplier of that piece of equipment might have gone out of business. We use additive manufacturing to reproduce those original parts as a way to manage obsolescence in supply chain.”

At least one member of the audience welcomed the fact that Lockheed doesn’t have all the answers, despite its considerable size and resources.

Lockheed Martin is making titanium propellant tanks for satellites using a Chicago company’s electron beam additive manufacturing technology.

“It was encouraging,” said seminar attendee Jesse Arias, operations manager for HydraForce (Lincolnshire, IL), manufacturer of fluid handling systems for heavy equipment. “It kind of drew on the practical reality that it’s (AM) coming, but we’re not there yet.”

Lockheed has made some progress with the newer technology, though, and set an out-of-this-world record doing it.

The company made the Juno spacecraft that reached Jupiter’s polar orbit on July 5. It has an AM part, making it the farthest a 3D printed part has flown. Also, as we reported in last month’s 3D blog (Go Big or Go Home: Large-Format 3D Printing Advances), Lockheed is making titanium propellant tanks for satellites using a Chicago company’s electron beam additive manufacturing technology.

Despite Ghobrial’s self-deprecating and lighthearted tone – the laughter he generated was a welcome waker-upper for his morning presentation – he and his group put their printers to good use. In its first year of AM production, the facility produced over 3,500 AM parts, of which 1,500 went into end use production.

“I guess if we didn’t have the Makerbots we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Ghobrial said with a smile.

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