U.S. soldiers may soon be able to 3-D print missiles from the field, if all goes according to plan at Raytheon; the company says it's already able to print 80 percent of the components needed for a guided missile.
The leading defense contractor has already 3-D printed rocket engines, fins, and parts for the guidance and control systems, including conductors, dielectrics, carbon nanotubes and tiny structures made of linked carbon atoms, according to a sponsored article the company posted on The Hill.
Now Raytheon is focusing on production integrity and developing ways to print complex electronic circuits and microwave components, which are necessary parts for Raytheon's Patriot air and missile defense system, according to Teresa Clement, a Raytheon material expert.
Leah Hull, Raytheon's additive manufacturing manager, said that 3-D printing will someday streamline manufacturing. "When we print something, we have fewer piece parts, so your supply chain becomes simpler," Hull said. "Your development cycles are shorter; you're getting parts much faster. You can get a lot more complex with your design because [you can design] angles you can't machine into metal."
The goal is to eventually 3-D print complex systems in one go, rather than building separate parts and then assembling them, said Clement.
"There's currently a hierarchy in our manufacturing. We make the structures, the housings, the circuit cards, with the right materials, and then we integrate them into a system," she said. "What we see in the near future is printing the electronics and printing the structures, but still integrating. Eventually, we want to print everything together."
Before soldiers can 3-D print missiles from the battlefield, Chris McCarroll, director of Raytheon, said Raytheon first needs to develop "quality, controlled processes to fabricate all the component materials: the metallic strongbacks, and the plastic connectors, the semiconductors for processors, and the energetics and propulsion systems."
"The hard part is then making the connections between these components, as an example, the integrated control circuit that receives the command to light the fuse. At some relatively near-term point you may have to place chips down and interconnect them with printing. Or, in the future, maybe you'll just print them," McCarroll said.
Inventors already managed to print practically undetectable 3-D plastic guns, which they then shared the blueprints for on the Internet, allowing almost anyone with a 3-D printer to do the same.
Needless to say, the Obama administration promptly forced the group that posted the blueprints, Defense Distributed, to remove them, and then the State Department introduced a new proposal to ban the posting of schematics for 3-D printed gun parts online, reported Fox News.
"This is a direct action on behalf of the Obama administration to control public speech about guns on the Internet," Cody Wilson, founder and director of Defense Distributed, told Fox News. "They cynically redefine any posting of any technical data to be an 'export,' and thereby claim that it isn't speech. It's surreal and they're getting away with it."
The group filed a lawsuit against the State Department in May claiming a violation of their First Amendment right to free speech.