On May 2022, President Joe Biden joined five large U.S. manufacturers to announce the launch of AM Forward, an alliance to help smaller domestic suppliers increase their use of 3D printing. Among the initial OEM participants was Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT). Now the defense contractor announced its first action in support of AM Forward through a collaboration with AM supplier Sintavia.
According to the deal, the companies will expand the research of metal AM opportunities as an alternative to castings and forgings while improving efficiencies in existing castings and forgings supply chains and providing parts with a higher level of detail and greater design opportunities.
Current manufacturing challenges
Like most OEMs in the aerospace industry Lockheed Martin has relied on castings and forgings for critical structural and sub-system aircraft and rocket components. Although these traditional manufacturing processes have been considered strong and reliable for thousands of years – particularly forging – there are some limitations to their manufacturing capabilities. For example, components cannot be very intricate when forging, and casting processes need a large team of employees, which elevates production costs. Instead, AM can enable one-off output of complex and large components with less workforce.
For a company like Lockheed Martin, this can be highly beneficial. For over a decade, it has attempted to leverage AM to achieve a product development process that is entirely digital, with both the design and manufacturing phases helping speed up production. For example, in 2016, the brand’s space division presented its “Digital Tapestry” concept, an integrated model-based engineering toolset that keeps the digital data intact from product conceptualization to realization and is supported by advanced manufacturing techniques like 3D printing.
Additionally, it has done extensive work with small to medium-sized enterprises (SME) and AM equipment manufacturers, as well s qualification and development of new materials and standards. Over the past two years alone, Lockheed Martin has worked with SME suppliers to procure more than 25,000 AM parts and invested more than $55 million since 2018 in several AM and advanced manufacturing startups across software, hardware, integrated parts, and custom materials.
More importantly, Lockheed Martin has expressed the potential of scaling AM practices to improve the agility of casting and forging supply chains where legacy processes are often resource- and time-intensive, partly because of the small number of domestic suppliers. The AM Forward initiative is, therefore, ideal and can result in shrinking part lead times, even under today’s harsh supply chain conditions.
Pushing AM forward
As an original member of AM Forward, Lockheed Martin committed to working with SME suppliers to conduct research and improve the performance of AM techniques in a March 2022 letter. Now that the company has asserted the initiative’s goals and teamed up with supplier Sintavia, we expect to hear more about the extensive use of AM and more resilient supply chains going forward.
Commenting on the new collaboration, Sintavia Founder and CEO Brian Neff said both companies want to improve the capability, agility, and competitiveness of the defense industrial supply base.
“Our partnership with Lockheed Martin seeks to identify and streamline manufacturing inefficiencies, specifically in the production of flight critical structures,” specified Neff.
Similarly, Lockheed Martin President and CEO James Taiclet explained on a LinkedIn post that the business wants to increase its efforts to build a strong U.S. supply chain and has the potential to reduce overall operating costs, improve efficiencies, and create next-generation design opportunities for our products and our customers, further advancing Lockheed Martin’s 21st Century Security vision.
During the launch of AM Forward, both Lockheed Martin and fellow OEM Honeywell Aerospace chose Sintavia, a supplier with multiple Nadcap and other aerospace accreditations, to represent the AM supply chain. The products that Sintavia designs and prints already power and cool aerospace manufacturers’ flight and launch vehicles, but the company anticipates that use case potential is practically limitless.
Although the focus of this collaboration will be new alternatives to casting and forging, the partners will explore additional AM technology areas, including laser powder bed fusion, electron beam-directed energy deposition, and friction stir AM.