The efficient and early inclusion of quality in the Digital Tapestry is changing the way Lockheed Martin’s Space Systems does business. We are creating a seamless link between engineering, production and the supply chain. Using virtual design tools, we use the same 3-D information from concept to cosmos, making a faster and more affordable life cycle.

The problem of keeping up with an ever-changing and evolving business market is being confronted head-on by our quality assurance organization. Our customers’ budgets are declining, yet the demand for our products and expertise is growing. Simply put, our customers must do more, with less. That is where our Digital Tapestry comes in. It seamlessly connects design and manufacturing to meet customer expectations. We are pushing the frontiers of digital technology by linking all stages of the product life cycle. 

Our customers depend on us to adapt to the changing environment and help solve their most difficult challenges, and that is exactly what we do. We are using human immersion virtual reality systems to simplify manufacturing, test and integration processes. We are using tablet computing to revolutionize the way design data is presented on the production floor, and we are reducing costs by using intelligent machines that automate and enhance our workflow. Quality benefits from this collaborative, digital environment. By examining designs in their virtual states, we can prevent defects earlier and create new approaches more quickly.

We also are incorporating custom modifications to off-the-shelf 3-D printing technology to accelerate verification for space flight.  The combination of advanced materials and advanced manufacturing allows engineers to design and build almost anything they can imagine. Our continued investments in research and development—especially in material science—will define the art of the possible.

Quality has six threads within the weave of the Digital Tapestry:

Conceptualization:  We can make rapid, iterative trades during conceptualization of designs, built from a virtual catalog of components.

Design & Analysis:  Engineers use auto-coding and highly accurate visualization tools tied to historical data to better refine designs.

Simulation & Optimization:  We can simulate performance of a prototype as well as of a part, allowing for the detection and elimination of defects in designs or processes much earlier.

Manufacturing: The marriage of the Digital Tapestry and new manufacturing technologies—like advanced composites and 3-D printing—is dramatically reducing production time, cost and improving product quality.

Assembly & Test: We can continue to streamline processes with our visualization tools, like developing simpler ways to transport space vehicles and optimize factory layouts.

Operations and Sustainment: We can leverage data to produce visual, intuitive operating and maintenance procedures superior to text-based manuals.

Our quality organization benefits from these threads in numerous ways. For example, we reduced manufacturing and inspection costs of propulsion core components by 55 percent. We accomplished this by implementing an automated tube bender and digital inspection techniques. This allowed real-time comparison of tube dimensions to the engineering 3-D model.

Quality engages earlier in the product development life cycle through high-fidelity design reviews and insertion of critical inspection characteristics. This enables a higher level of product verification to customer requirements. Using 3-D models, we can use virtual reality to examine both a single product and how it fits into a system. During the visualization process, we use video and sensors to verify conformity as the component is being printed or created.

However, there are still unique challenges to producing 3-D printed parts for space and missile applications. Acceptance and qualification of additively manufactured parts is the most unique challenge. Many of our products need to survive harsh launch environments and maintain an extended mission life. Engineering and production requirements evolve as customers present new, challenging missions. This means we have to be nimble and adopt new materials, processes or manufacturing operations, including 3-D printed parts. Our approach to advanced manufacturing is part of our whole-systems response to meet customer needs.

Lockheed Martin’s Space Systems Company is moving toward 3-D printing in the future, but additive manufacturing is not the universal manufacturing solution for all components. We envision that an optimal combination of traditional manufacturing processes and 3-D printing will drive our factory of the future. Designers will be able to identify the components and corresponding manufacturing method to create the most beneficial production approach. For 3-D-printed primary load-bearing structures, industry is building a material property database, processing guidelines, robust nondestructive inspection methods, qualification and product digital acceptance criteria to facilitate insertion/acceptance of additively manufactured technology. 3-D printing is an excellent manufacturing solution for truly complex-shaped parts, which are too difficult to produce by traditional methods and can also reduce weight for critical space applications. Additive manufacturing is key to flexibility in the future.

Readers may still wonder where 3-D printing is heading. Will we be able to print an entire satellite in 10 years? We envision the day when we can transmit an entire design to an additive manufacturing machine and print a satellite and its sensors in one integrated piece. We’re still developing the technology to get us there. Lockheed Martin Space Systems is diligently working to transform our production processes, not only in large space and missile systems, but also for payloads and smaller systems that augment our mission architectures.

Building complex space and missile systems requires engineering, supply chain, production and quality teams to work seamlessly. When we enhance the team’s ability to collaborate and move seamlessly from one step to the next, we transform the enterprise into a more agile and affordable business. We are weaving the Digital Tapestry and transforming the way we do business.