Raytheon created nearly every component of a guided weapon using additive manufacturing, more commonly known as 3-D printing. The components include rocket engines, fins, parts for the guidance and control systems, and more.
“You could potentially have these in the field,” said Jeremy Danforth, a Raytheon engineer who has printed working rocket motors. “Machines making machines. The user could [print on demand]. That’s the vision.”
The progress is part of a companywide push into additive manufacturing and 3-D printing, including projects meant to supplement traditional manufacturing processes. Engineers are exploring the use of 3-D printing to lay down conductive materials for electrical circuits, create housings for the company's revolutionary gallium nitride transmitters, and fabricate fins for guided artillery shells.
The process may reduce costs associated with traditional manufacturing, such as machining of parts. It allows for quick design and rapid changes because engineers only need change the digital model representing the part. As long as they stay within set parameters, they can have new parts in hours instead of weeks.
“You can design internal features that might be impossible to machine,” said Raytheon engineer Travis Mayberry, who is researching future uses of additive manufacturing and 3-D printing. “We’re trying new designs for thermal improvements and lightweight structures, things we couldn’t achieve with any other manufacturing method.”
Printing parts also allows for more complex geometries with high-resolution and high-performance silicon. Raytheon’s institute at U Mass has made progress in printing conductors and dielectrics, as well as carbon nanotubes for printing future missiles.
There are already people in industry printing warheads.
Rocket Lab, a New Zealand-based startup, has used 3D printing to significantly reduce the average cost of rocket launches. The company has developed a lightweight satellite launcher called “Electron,” along with its engine named “Rutherford Engine” from an additive process using titanium alloys.
The engine reduced the amount of fuel being used, thus, cutting down the cost from Lockheed-Martin’s $225 million to $4.9 million. CEO Peter Beck states that the company aims to “commercialize” space access. RocketLab’s first commercial launch that will use the cost-efficient engine is expected to commence in 2016.
Printing Titanium Parts
Titanium additive manufacturing is game changer for aerospace (airplane, rocket and satellite) parts.
* Production of aerospace parts by conventional technologies requires about 5 times the material amount in the final part, and individual parts may have “buy to fly” values of 10 or more. Additive manufacturing can reduce the “buy to fly” ratio significantly, typically to 1.5 or better.
* Reduced lead time and flexibility in design as additional benefits.
* process has been developed for deposition of titanium and titanium alloys, hereunder the most common used alloy for aerospace applications, Ti6Al4V
Chile’s White Mountain Titanium is a developing mine with a rich deposit in Cerro Blanco. The company is expected to draw out 112 million tons of high-grade rutile, which will eventually fill the global titanium pipeline with quality supply.