3D printing technologies have many present and likely future applications. The military and aerospace sectors have been industries committed to the adoption of 3D printing technologies. The U.S. Navy’s Fleet Ballistic Missile program has taken a step further into the future with its 3D printed missile component.
The first 3D printed missile component was integrated into three Lockheed Martin’s Trident II D5 Fleet Ballistic Missiles, which successfully completed flights. The part being 3 printed is a 2.5 cm wiring connector casing and is produced using the aluminum alloy based direct laser sintering 3D printing technique. This method involves a high powered computer guided electron beam fusing metal powder together one layer at a time. Lockheed Martin engineers designed and fabricated the new connector in half the time of traditional methods and reduces waste material.
Lockheed Martin has gotten 3D printed parts in flight previously as well. The company has flown additively manufactured parted on planetary probes, satellites for human use. The company is also working to develop an integrated manufacturing system, Digital Tapestry, which improves products and processes through connecting a products digital life from concept to product through service. “These tests demonstrate the readiness and reliability of this crucial system that protects what matters most for the nation,” said Eric Scherff, vice president of Fleet Ballistic Missile programs, Lockheed Martin Space Systems. “The Trident Strategic Weapon System stands guard every minute every day, thanks to the dedication and forward thinking of the Nave program office, the submarine crews and the industry team.”
The D5 missile now has achieved a total of 160 successful test flights since design completion in 1989. In most recent tests, the Navy launched the unarmed missiles in the Atlantic Ocean from a submerged submarine. The missile were converted into test configuration using kits produces by Lockheed Martin that contain range safety devices and flight telemetry instrumentation. The test flights were part of a Follow-on Commander’s evaluation Test of the Trident Strategic Weapon System conducted under the testing guidelines of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Even though wide-scale military adoption of metal 3D printing is still over ten years away, application ready 3D printed parts are already making their way into military aircraft for cost and time-saving reasons.