Lockheed Martin and Velo3D have collaborated to create a 3D printed ramjet.

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Diving into the world of hypersonics, we find ourselves faced with a critical challenge: how do we bring this technology to reality? The answer lies in either developing materials that surpass those created by NASA and other organizations in the 1970s, or finding innovative ways to utilize existing materials. However, the extreme heat and pressure that hypersonic vehicles will be exposed to complicate matters, highlighting the need for optimized, weight-saving 3D-printed structures.

Recognizing this need, the Department of Defense’s Lightweight Innovations For Tomorrow (LIFT) Institute teamed up with Velo3D, Lockheed Martin, and Vibrant to advance the development of 3D-printed hypersonic propulsion systems. Lockheed played a crucial role, proposing a 3D-printed ramjet engine that could eventually evolve into a scramjet engine.

To begin the process, Lockheed conducted a design of experiments project using powder bed fusion with Inconel 718 material. They then used a Velo3D Sapphire 1 MZ machine to 3D print two 751-mm tall ramjet engines, engineered with incredibly thin walls and 500-micron holes. Tests on these components and related coupons provided valuable insights into system reliability and variability between machines.

One of the challenges inherent to additive manufacturing (AM) is the need to validate and certify parts for service and mission-critical applications. Dr. John Keogh, the LIFT Engineering Director, explains, “Our goal was to identify the signatures of physical quality found in process data and rapid post-process inspection for accurately certifying a component for the rigors of hypersonic flight.” To achieve this, the team employed Vibrant’s Process-Compensated Resonance Testing (PCRT), which uses a component’s natural resonance frequency to check for cracks, occlusions, proper porosity, and overall build quality.

This data was then combined with in-situ monitoring and analyzed to fine-tune optimal machine parameters. The team aims to leverage this information, along with further experiments, to accurately predict and assess the fatigue properties of 3D-printed parts. The ultimate goal is to produce components that are “born certified,” already meeting quality standards as they emerge from the 3D printer.

This collaborative effort is part of a larger partnership between LIFT and the American Lightweight Materials Manufacturing Innovation Institute. With a budget exceeding $100 million and a membership of over 300 academics and firms, LIFT is also known for their jointless vehicle hull project with MELD. In addition, they are conducting the Hypersonics Challenge on behalf of the Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, with the aim of identifying materials and manufacturing methods suitable for hypersonic vehicles.

The road to hypersonics is not an easy one, and it requires extensive collaboration. The challenges posed by this technology are too great for any single firm to overcome alone. Hypersonics represents the ultimate high ground, with the potential to significantly impact global power dynamics in the future. The collaboration between LIFT, Velo3D, Lockheed Martin, and Vibrant serves as a promising beginning, and we look forward to seeing more of these collaborative projects in the future.

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By reimagining the blog post using a different writing style, the essence of the story and logic remain unchanged. The information about the collaboration between LIFT, Velo3D, Lockheed Martin, and Vibrant to advance the development of 3D-printed hypersonic propulsion systems is conveyed in a slightly different tone, but the key points and details remain intact.

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