“When we print something, we have fewer piece parts, so our supply chain becomes simpler, our development cycles are shorted and we can get a lot more complex with our design because we can print angles that we can’t machine into metal.” says Leah Hull, Additive Manufacturing manager for Raytheon.
Engineers at the Raytheon University of Massachusetts Lowell Research Institute are exploring the use of Additive Manufacturing to lay down conductive materials for electrical circuits, create housings for the company's revolutionary gallium nitride transmitters, fabricate fins for guided artillery shells, and building blocks of sophisticated radars used in products like Raytheon’s Patriot air and missile defense system.
¿What is actually envisioning Raytheon? In words of Jeremy Danforth, a Raytheon engineer who has printed working rocket motors, “Machines making machines. That’s the vision.” and for Dr. Teresa Clement, a Raytheon materials expert who also serves as the chair of the executive committee of America Makes, an initiative of the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, “Additive Manufacturing allows us to perform rapid changes because engineers only need change the digital model representing the part."
Researchers at Raytheon Missile Systems say they have already created nearly every component of a guided weapon using additive manufacturing. But, ¿Could soldiers someday print and assemble missiles on the spot, in the same way that artillery crews custom-load their rounds or weapons handlers mount guidance kits on some types of bombs? For Chris McCarroll, Raytheon director for the Massachusetts Lowell Research Institute, "that's still a ways off."
The process may reduce costs associated with traditional manufacturing, such as machining of parts, so the company is pushing into additive manufacturing and 3-D printing, including projects meant to supplement traditional manufacturing processes. “There’s currently a hierarchy in our manufacturing. We make the structures, the housings, the circuit cards, with the right materials, and then we integrate them into a system,” says McCarroll. “What we see in the near future is printing the electronics and printing the structures, but still integrating. Eventually, we want to print everything together. An integrated system.”
Thanks to high-end 3D Production Systems, Raytheon researchers have yet created nearly every component of a guided weapon using 3-D printing, including rocket engines, fins, parts for the guidance and control systems, and more. “You can design internal features that might be impossible to machine,” says 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.”