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Additive Manufacturing for Affordable Missile Defense



TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Materials/Processes, Space Platforms, Weapons

The technology within this topic is restricted under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), which controls the export and import of defense-related material and services. Offerors must disclose any proposed use of foreign nationals, their country of origin, and what tasks each would accomplish in the statement of work in accordance with section 5.4.c.(8) of the solicitation.

OBJECTIVE: Leverage advancements in additive manufacturing technologies to reduce cost and/or shorten delivery lead times of non-critical parts for missile defense applications, including missiles, kill vehicles, sensors, and radars.

DESCRIPTION: This effort is primarily geared towards replacing non-critical parts with parts made using additive manufacturing methods. Oftentimes, aerospace parts that need to be manufactured have long-lead times for procurement, or the supplier is no longer in the business of making the parts. Advancements in additive manufacturing could be used to address this situation. Additive Manufacturing (AM) is a name to describe technologies that build 3D objects by adding layer-upon-layer of material. The term AM encompasses many technologies including subsets like 3D Printing, Rapid Prototyping (RP), Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM), layered manufacturing, and additive fabrication. One hurdle in implementing these new manufacturing methods for replacement parts is the stringent, time consuming, and costly qualification processes that must be followed because of the change in manufacturing process or material. The current limitation for applying additive manufacturing methods to aerospace part fabrication is that most of the processes create microstructure that is significantly different than traditional manufacturing processes. While the microstructure that results within a specific part is often repeatable, it has been difficult to control and therefore tends to be unique in each type of part. There are currently no accepted certifications for additive manufacturing equipment, processes, or the resulting material; therefore, each part must be approached individually to receive certification. Before these parts can be trusted or receive flight certification, the material and the manufacturing process need to be certified to establish parameters for getting the best results in large-scale production. This topic seeks the ability to produce non-critical parts which have the potential to transform logistics and sustainment practices and to provide a multitude of suppliers to support more competitive sourcing and reduce supply chain brittleness. These parts include but are not limited to such items as brackets, ducting, housings, shrouds, covers, and hoses. Additive manufacturing of parts for missile defense application components could also be a basis for an anti-obsolescence parts program. Produced parts should be manufactured using aerospace quality materials and meet required specifications and tolerances.

PHASE I: Develop and demonstrate additive manufacturing process(es) to rapidly manufacture and qualify non-critical aerospace parts, with a focus on key elements of the missile defense systems. Identify and prioritize parts to pilot the new manufacturing processes and certifications approaches. Document steps on how parts were chosen, how key qualification issues were addressed, and lessons learned for implementing new manufacturing methods on similar parts in the future.

PHASE II: Demonstrate repeatability of the process(es) developed in Phase I and scale them up to verify other components. Select representative materials that would be used in non-critical parts. Fabricate a set of material test samples and demonstrate that the material properties (e.g., elastic modulus and ultimate strength) match the material properties for forged samples of the same materials. Working with appropriate engineering authorities to work through qualification of manufacturing processes, pilot the process on 2-3 identified parts employed in missile defense. Provide data useful for design rules as well as details on how to specify and evaluate similar products supplied by different vendors. Develop plans for implementing an anti-obsolescence part program based on additive manufacturing processes/parts.

PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Further commercialize the capability to qualify replacement parts. Enhance the automation of the process and work with missile defense integrators to integrate the technology into missile defense kill vehicles, sensors, and radar manufacturing processes.


  • Dr. M Kinsella, AFRL, and Dr. C. Clinton, NASA MSFC. June 2015. Additive Manufacturing Qualification and Certification for Space and Missile Applications Workshop, National Space and Missile Materials Symposium, Chantilly, VA.
  • 2. 2015. “Creating Innovative Paths Towards Game-Changing Results.” Agenda. Defense Manufacturing Conference.

KEYWORDS: additive manufacturing, sustainment, reverse engineering, non-flight critical, qualification, 3D printing


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