THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD PART (PART TWO)
By Mike Riley
Tomorrow is Here: While EBDM could be the mother lode that Uncle Sam is searching for to improve the value of the F-35 fighter, other additive technologies are making impacts in medicine, in electronics, in the arts, and even in the home
Last month in Part One we reported on how the recent Department of Defense agreement between Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. (Bethesda, MD) and Sciaky, Inc. (Chicago, IL) has advanced electron beam direct manufacturing (EBDM) forward as another promising additive technology that could potentially disrupt the world of machining high-value parts.
We traveled down the long and winding road from the early days of rapid prototyping to the “3D printing” science that has slowly expanded from making only prototypes to actually building production quantities in different industries. That journey led us to the DoD identifying EBDM as a “game changer” for repair and discrete part production, meaning it could redefine and advance the current state-of-the-art in aerospace manufacturing.
Sciaky developed its EBDM capabilities with assistance of the DoD Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program. Much of the momentum was carried over from SBIRs that Sciaky was awarded from the U.S. Air Force Research Lab, where Lockheed Martin served as the Engineering Design Authority. Now the goal is to transition the process from making only prototypes to actually manufacturing efficient, high quality, large-scale production quantities. As the technology matures, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 aircraft program will consider EBDM for manufacturing titanium structural components.
“While our early focus is going to be on the F-35, we ultimately plan to implement EBDM technology across the breadth of our aircraft product lines to improve affordability and lead-time for titanium structures,” said Brian Rosenberger, the affordability lead for Improvements & Derivatives at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. This is where the rubber meets the road for EBDM, a process that could potentially change the game is in its ability to produce production parts out of exotic metals such as titanium, stainless steel, nickel and refractory alloys at a fraction of the cost of traditional manufacturing methods.
Given the history of cost overruns the Pentagon has experienced in developing the F-35, EBDM could be the mother lode that Uncle Sam is searching for to reduce the costs of the plane and increase its production. Even though demand for this fighter remains high, particularly from several foreign allies, in May the U.S. House of Representatives passed a $554 billion defense bill that included the Pentagon’s 2013 budget of $9.1 billion for 29 jets, down 13 planes from prior plans. Overall the Pentagon has chosen to cut 179 F-35 aircraft buys between 2013 and 2017, which it says will save $15.1 billion.
However, the Air Force still plans to purchase 1,763 F-35 aircraft over the program’s lifetime and, by slowing production, the Pentagon will be able to focus more on development of the jet, which is happening simultaneously with development of its production processes – which include additive technologies such as EBDM. All of this supports the advancement of direct digital manufacturing (DDM) technology via the Open Manufacturing initiative of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), which is working closely with Penn State University to advance and deploy DDM for highly engineered and critical metallic systems to the DoD and U.S. industry.
Our final destination down the long and winding road is now in sight as additive manufacturing technologies move all sorts of industries into next-generation manufacturing in a big way. In fact, the May 5 issue of The Dayton Daily News (Dayton, OH) reported that additive manufacturing “is expected to become a $3.7 billion global industry by 2015, more than doubling its current $1.7 billion value, according to Wohlers Associates (Fort Collins, CO), an independent consulting firm. Industry growth is expected to surpass $6.5 billion by 2019.”
Beyond defense, additive manufacturing is starting to make an impact in medicine, in electronics, in the arts, and even in the home, where some analysts predict that desktop 3D printers capable of building functional products in color out of multiple materials should cost no more than a few hundred dollars by 2015. Tomorrow has arrived.
About the Author: Mike Riley is the editor of Fabricating & Metalworking magazine and the author of Backfield In Motion (Derek Press, 2007). Share your thoughts with him at 205-681-3393 or email@example.com.