They call it "Digital Tapestry," and Lockheed Martin Space Systems says the system hinges on using 3D printing as part of a next-generation digital integration design and manufacturing process.
A global aerospace, defense, security, and advanced technology business with worldwide interests, the company was formed by the merger of Lockheed Corporation with Martin Marietta in March of 1995.
Headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, outside of Washington, Lockheed Martin employs 116,000 people worldwide with Marillyn Hewson, the current president and CEO at the helm.
One of the world's largest defense contractors, in 2009, something like three-quarters of Lockheed Martin revenues came from military sales and fully 7% of those funds came directly from the Pentagon
Of the five Lockheed Martin business segments; Aeronautics, Information Systems & Global Solutions, Missile and Fire Control, Mission Systems and Training, and Space Systems, US Government contracts poured $38 billion into corporate coffers making them the number one company on the list of federal contractors.
Dennis Little, Vice President of Production for Lockheed Martin, recently introduced Digital Tapestry, and it promises to be the kind of technological tool that would make Tony Stark sit up and take notice.
A Model Based Engineering tool used to integrate design and manufacturing into a single, seamless process, the concept goes beyond CAD design and creates a digital virtual environment called – and this is a mouthful – the Collaborative Human Immersive Laboratory. In this scheme, designers manipulate parts to envision how they're constructed and test their operation.
Once a particular design is transitioned to the factory floor, the move is simplified as the process eliminates many tasks like manually cutting fabric or bending and approving the layout of fuel systems.
"Our Digital Tapestry of production brings digital design to every stage of the production process for a fluid product development cycle," Little said. "From 3D virtual pathfinding simulations to 3D printing, we're using innovative digital technology to streamline the manufacturing process."
And 3D printing is at the core of the Digital Tapestry model.
Currently in use to manufacture parts of the F-35 fighter, 3DP is quickly being adopted into other areas of product manufacturing, principally in creating printed titanium parts.
As with the AMAZE project goals, Lockheed Martin is determined to expand the company's use of 3D printing with the goal of one day printing entire satellites.
The major difference in the how both projects are conducted? Funding, and Lockheed Martin are hardly short of that critical element of the equation.