When it comes to manufacturer contracts for military applications, we’re far more likely to hear the words “cost overrun” than “price reduction.”
That’s why it was a pleasant surprise when Lockheed Martin announced it had cut costs from its F-35 flight simulators by swapping some traditionally produced parts with 3D printed ones. And it was no small potatoes, either: Lockheed says each unit of the F-35 Full Mission Simulator — or FMS — would cost $3 million less to produce than it did previously.
According to 3D Printing Industry, pilots-in-training do much of their training on the FMS as opposed to the notoriously costly F-35 jet itself — which runs about $100 million. The system offers a virtual environment, including controls and sensors, and even includes the same software as what’s use in prime time. Because it’s been so effective, the Air Force is said to be splitting training time about 50-50 between FMS and the aircraft.
Lockheed has made clear commitments to additive manufacturing in recent years, including investing a million dollars in a new 3D printing lab in Denver, and says it doesn’t believe that 3D printing is a novelty anymore. The company anticipates that, in addition to its current cost savings, further savings of $11 million will be realized over the next five years through the continued use of automation and additive technologies. This includes a 3D printed cockpit that should be fitted within the FMS units by 2020.