Additive manufacturing (AM) can produce a lot of different items, including houses, bridges and cars. Although it may sound like a plan directly from an evil overlord, it may soon be possible to print out missiles to spec. Maybe that’ll be the next Bond villain’s master plan. “No Mr. Bond. I expect you to print.”
3D printed missiles are exactly what Raytheon has in mind. The company is investigating implementing AM for the same reasons as most other companies, regardless of industry: cost and speed. Designs can be generated and tested with AM in a fraction of the time required by traditional manufacturing methods. A reduction in time to market is also a reduction in cost.
AM also brings with it a freedom of design that might be inspiring to the engineers at a company with a history as long as Raytheon. After 90 years in the business, bringing in something new to shake up the status quo can invigorate innovation.
“You can design internal features that might be impossible to machine,” said Raytheon engineer Travis Mayberry, who is researching future uses of additive manufacturing and 3D printing. “We’re trying new designs for thermal improvements and lightweight structures, things we couldn’t achieve with any other manufacturing method.”
Raytheon’s research team has already proven it can build the majority of a missile using AM alone. This includes rocket engines, fins, parts for the guidance and control systems, and any necessary circuitry. Ensuring consistent quality is the next, and possibly most important, step on the road to printing a missile.
Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Why 3D print a missile? Other than reducing cost, the ability to build missiles in the field would give flight crews additional flexibility in the type of munitions to be used. In much the same way that artillery crews can load their weapons for specific tasks, flight crews could build missiles to perform in a specific manner, thus increasing effectiveness.
Below you’ll find a video about Raytheon.