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Aerospace, Defense See 3D Printing as Vital, Executive Says

Bill Koenig
By Bill Koenig Senior Editor, SME Media

FORT WORTH, TX — The aerospace and defense industries see 3D printing as important to making new designs practical and for holding the line on costs, a Lockheed Martin executive said today at SME’s RAPID + TCT.

“It continues to accelerate the speed we can turn ideas into reality,” Michael Packer, director of advanced production programs at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, said during a presentation.

The Lockheed Martin Skunk Works operation was started in 1943 as small teams working to quickly develop projects.

“The reality for aerospace and defense for additive manufacturing is it’s an enabler,” Packer said. “It is a process allows us improvements of affordability, cycle times and quality. Part count reduction that allows all of that to occur.”

Aerospace generally has been one of the most enthusiastic adopters of 3D printing. General Electric Co. has been 3D printing fuel nozzles for aircraft engines. GE also developed its Advanced Turboprop engine, where 3D printing reduced the number of parts from 855 to 12.

At Lockheed Martin, the Skunk Works operation has developed “one off, two off” prototype aircraft that include 3D printed parts, Packer said. “We don’t have some of the durability and life constraints of some of the parts.”

‘Holy Grail’

The company is using additive manufacturing for tooling and secondary aircraft parts such as heat exchangers and ducts, he said.

“Primary structure is the Holy Grail,” Packer said. “There are a lot of challenges and still a lot of work ahead to achieve that.”

3D printing has the potential to reduce costs because it “sheds all the mass that is unnecessary” and by “only adding what you need as opposed to machining away all you don’t need,” the executive said.

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