Lockheed Martin and Arconic Collaborate on 3D Printing and Advanced Aerospace Materials

The two-year joint development agreement will include the development of advanced materials and manufacturing processes for current and next-generation aerospace platforms.

Arconic 3D-printed polymer patterns are used to cast aero engine components at the company’s facility in Whitehall, Mich. (Image source: Arconic)

As part of an initiative to develop next-generation advanced materials and manufacturing processes, Lockheed Martin Corporation , based out of Bethesda, Md., and New York City-based Arconic, Inc.  entered a two-year joint development agreement. Together, the companies will develop customized lightweight material systems and advanced manufacturing processes, such as metal additive manufacturing – also known as 3D printing – to advance current and next-generation aerospace and defense solutions, including new structures and systems not currently in existence.

NASA’s Orion spacecraft (depicted in an artist’s representation) is a multi-purpose human spacecraft designed for deep-space exploration missions. Its development began in May of 2011 and its most recent flight was in December 2014. (Image source: NASA)

This agreement expands the longstanding relationship between Arconic and Lockheed Martin. The companies currently collaborate on advanced materials and manufacturing projects such as the development of process modeling, simulation tools, and lightweight, corrosion resistant alloys. Arconic also supplies Lockheed Martin with a range of multi-material products for the F-35 Lighting II  Joint Strike Fighter  aircraft program – from engine to airframe structures – as well as 3D-printed metal parts for service on NASA ’s Orion spacecraft .

Additive manufacturing promises lighter, better-performing parts produced cheaper – like the Arconic-designed, optimized aerospace bracket shown here. (Image source: Arconic)

The Orion spacecraft, slated for an unmanned test flight around the Moon in 2020, will feature over 100 3D-printed components. By manufacturing those geometrically complex components with 3D printing techniques, NASA has replaced between 500 to 600 conventionally manufactured parts and approximately halved the weight of the spacecraft. Lockheed Martin and Boeing  are manufacturing the Orion spacecraft, the first deep-space craft manufactured with 3D-printed parts.

“At Lockheed Martin, we are relentlessly finding ways to develop materials that create state-of-the-art advanced capabilities, reduce waste and generate efficiencies in manufacturing practices,” says Rod Makoske, senior vice-president of Lockheed Martin Corporate Engineering, Technology and Operations. “Collaborating with Arconic will help us uncover new ideas for materials development where traditional practices aren’t suitable, investigate more sustainable material compositions and find ways to produce materials more effectively.”

Arconic continues to develop a range of high-performance multi-materials and products for almost every aero engine and airframe platform, including commercial airliners. The company produced components as small as 1/16-inch-diameter aircraft fasteners to the world’s largest fuselage panels and wing skins.

“We have a long history of innovative collaboration with Lockheed Martin across multiple platforms—from single-piece forged bulkheads for the F-35 to 3D-printed parts for the Orion spacecraft—and we are pleased to expand on that relationship with this new agreement,” says Ray Kilmer, executive vice president and chief technology officer at Arconic.

The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting II is a fifth-generation, sing-seat-single-engine, all-weather multirole fighter. The F-35B (pictured onboard and landing on the USS America on November 17, 2016 for the third shipboard phase of developmental testing) is the short takeoff and vertical landing variant. (Image source: Lockheed Martin)

Lockheed Martin is progressing toward the goal of creating greater manufacturing efficiencies, including completing life-cycle assessments on major products, identifying total cost of ownership reductions of $574 million from decreased resource consumption, and impacts on human health and the environment. The company’s 2017 Corporate Sustainability Report details how innovative manufacturing techniques – like industrial 3D printing – can allow for greater resource efficiency, less materials used, and potentially lower greenhouse gas emissions over the full life cycle of a part.

William Kucinski  is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include 'literally anything that has to do with space,' past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology. And also sportscars.

Contact him regarding any article or collaboration ideas by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..