Structured light is among the virtual manufacturing technologies Matt McKee sees as a critical tool for the future of production measurement and quality assurance.
“It’s made huge leaps, especially in the last five years” and is gaining in adoption, he said. “The leaps it is taking are finer accuracy, faster refresh rates and a larger field of view. Everyone wants it better, faster and cheaper.”
A structured light system, which is pre-programmed and electronic (read: hands-off) projects a fringe pattern of light across the surface of the F-35 and uses two cameras to collect data that is then used to map the fighter jet’s surfaces for subsequent applications in the manufacturing process and for quality assurance/acceptance as a form of automated inspection.
Human immersion/augmented reality is another technology McKee is sold on. “And seeing how much additive manufacturing has advanced, even in the last year, I can see that buying its way on—maybe not for flight parts but for applications other than production parts, such as quick, low-cost cast or injection molds, non-critical structure mounts, and continued rapid innovation test articles.”
Additive manufacturing has also proven the ability to expand the realm of engineering capabilities, producing parts that otherwise could not be machined and combining multiple components into a single component build.
McKee, who has always been interested in tinkering and problem solving and knew in his junior year of high school that he’d follow in his mechanical engineer father’s footsteps, earned a BS in mechanical engineering from Oklahoma State and joined Lockheed in 2009.
He always wanted to work on planes, “but I didn’t think I’d get to work on a fighter jet, so that was a pretty big bonus,” he said.
On top of that, he gets to investigate and develop “cutting-edge technologies to be solutions to problems in the manufacturing environment,” he said. “And we go from a concept on a piece of paper all the way to equipment in production. If you stay in your position long enough, you can see a project from sketch to solution.”
A portion of his work is taking things that used to be sprayed on applications and making them bond-on for improved accuracy to meet the stringent manufacturing requirements of military aircraft. Usually, this involves hard-to-reach areas of the F-35 and/or highly contoured surfaces. Often, the solution involves direct-injection molding or various adhesives in the form of epoxies and tapes.
McKee advises taking on “stretch assignments”—urgent projects that pop up in any organization that are outside your general scope of work.
“I was given the opportunity to work on a couple of those at Lockheed,” he recalled. “One was related to improving wiring harness fabrication, and another was related to developing a method for applying a new adhesive tape to complex surfaces for production use.”
This article was first published in the July 2016 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.