Not everything should be additively produced. But military training cockpits should. In the five years since the Advanced Manufacturing Center was first established at Lockheed Martin’s Training and Logistics plant in Orlando, FL, grown parts insertion on end-use applications has steadily grown.
In the early days, like at most companies, additive engineers at Lockheed Martin dabbled in desktop 3D printing to create everything from cell phone holders to company-themed keychains. The idea was to get familiar with the technology and understand its strengths and weaknesses. Today, the additive manufacturing (AM) team produces several thousand parts a year, many of which are for end-use production.
3D printing trinkets in the early days was fun but it led to some unintended consequences. Everyone was beginning to associate 3D printing with making toys. We understood that 3D printing could mature into a widely accepted manufacturing method for real parts beyond keychains and novelty items. This thinking led his team to create and trademark the 5Ps Additive Manufacturing Model.
The model serves as a communication tool to convey the potential applications of AM across the entire lifecycle of a typical US Department of Defense (DoD) program; from proposal to end-use production. Each of the Ps is associated with a functional organization, adding to the effectiveness and wide appeal of the model.
The first P is for proposal. It is championed by the business development organization. By quickly creating concept models of new training products, Lockheed Martin and its customers can quickly communicate ideas and have what-if discussions from the onset of the project, allowing the team to converge early toward a common vision.
The second P is for prototype. Naturally this phase of the project happens shortly after contract award. It is arguably the reason this technology was invented in the first place. This P belongs to the engineering organization. With the ability to quickly vet design concepts, it encourages engineers to investigate more innovative designs, which are perhaps risker to successfully implement but lead to enhanced product features and training realism. Rotary and Mission Systems (RMS) Orlando has implemented what it calls “design by day and print by night.” We challenge our engineers to bring us a design by 5 pm, and they can have their parts first thing in the morning as they walk through the doors and to their desks.
The third P is for procurement. This P belongs to the sourcing organization and has to do with managing the supply chain by leveraging AM technology to achieve the benefits of localized manufacturing in terms of reduced inventory and transportation costs. The DoD is keen on exploring the implementation of additive equipment in the battlefield and shipboard for quick-turn part fabrication. There are bound to be far-reaching and disruptive impacts to the supply chain. The sooner manufacturers adapt this new technology, the quicker the industry can get to a steady state with defined procedures and processes.
The fourth P is for production support. It belongs to the operations team. Production relies heavily on the use of templates and jigs to achieve repeatable quality products. Leveraging AM, the manufacturing team is able to rapidly and inexpensively develop assembly aids to meet quality and yield targets. Assembly staff members are empowered to come up with innovative tooling and fixtures, knowing that bringing their design ideas to reality is now easily achievable.
The fifth P is for production. AM for end-use production is championed by the program office. This is the Holy Grail of AM. Everyone is interested to know how many additively manufactured parts are being delivered in final products. Over the past five years, the TLS team in Orlando has placed more than 10,000 parts in end-use production in more than 50 different programs.
The model has served as a great tool to engage the whole of the organization in the AM journey. We no longer have additive engineers pushing the technology. Often, it’s our internal and external customers asking us how we plan to implement additive on their projects to drive business results.
As one of many lines of business within the larger Lockheed Martin family, the TLS division collaborates on additive projects across the RMS business area, as well as the larger Lockheed Martin enterprise, to leverage resources and know-how.
With almost 100,000 employees working across 600 sites and thousands of different products, there is a lot of R&D underway in just about every imaginable additive technology in the market today.
“At RMS we’ve implemented a hub and spoke model for our AM effort,” said Carolyn Preisendanz, director of AM technology at Lockheed Martin RMS. “We look to insert the right level of additive capabilities at each of our factories to support production and keep our innovation centers focused on development.”
Added David Tatro, director of production operations across all RMS factories: “We are interested in discriminating technologies that drive business results and that are consistent with the core competencies of each of our factories. We do not want to have a copycat approach to printing parts.”
Two of the biggest trends in AM over the last few years have been the increase in build envelope and printer speeds.
The TLS AM team has produced more than 15,000 individual AM components over the last five years. The majority of the components have been a one-for-one replacement with traditionally produced parts with slight variations and addition of complexity to take advantage of AM design freedom.
As machine envelops began increasing, the team began to consolidate individual piece parts and larger assemblies into monolithic structures. Two examples are from the F16 trainer: the center cockpit pedestal, which combines two dozen piece parts into a single printed structure, and the much larger cockpit outer structure, which consolidates over 900 individual parts.
Besides the obvious cost advantages from such wide-scale consolidations, the additive cockpit can be printed and finished in two weeks compared with the several months fabrication schedule for the traditionally manufactured fiberglass and metal structures.
The next step is to qualify the material and complete verification and validation. The ability to produce monolithic structures will greatly reduce training cost to our warfighters, allowing more trainers to be fielded, enhancing pilot readiness in the fleet worldwide.
Additive manufacturing is not a panacea for all manufacturing woes, and in many cases, it economically lags traditional manufacturing processes. It does have its sweet spot. The bull’s eye: military training and simulators.
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