The Raytheon Company is a major U.S. defense contractor and the largest producer in the world of guided missiles, so it should be no surprise that the company is already heavily involved in 3D printing for prototyping. But that isn’t where the company’s interests in “additive manufacturing” ends. It turns out that they’ve been working hard at making missiles that can be completely 3D printed, and have been having a lot of success. Via Raytheon’s website:
“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 3-D printing. “We’re trying new designs for thermal improvements and lightweight structures, things we couldn’t achieve with any other manufacturing method.”
With commercially available high-end equipment and specially modified versions of low-cost 3-D printers, Raytheon researchers have created nearly every component of a guided weapon using 3-D printing, including rocket engines, fins, parts for the guidance and control systems, and more.
“Ensuring consistent production integrity will be part of the next steps to realize this vision,” said Dr. Teresa Clement, a Raytheon materials expert who also serves as the chair of the executive committee of America Makes, an initiative of the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute.
At this point, Raytheon engineers estimate that they’ve managed to print 80 percent of what would go into a missile. And while the current 3D printing designs aren’t simple enough to allow a solider in a warzone to print a few sidewinders, people are already imagining scenarios where a warship with the right equipment and material can print a practically limitless number of advanced guided rockets.
Of course, it’s more than a little concerning that a major defense contractor is pouring money into developing cheaper, easier, and faster to manufacture missiles. One hopes that there’s a certain red line set where we don’t accidentally hand the ability to 3D print guided bombs to anyone who can afford a hundred grand worth of equipment. Once again, it seems like new technology that was supposed to push us towards a Star Trek-style Utopian society may instead bring us ever closer to a warlike Mad Max wasteland. Let’s just hope by the time we’re advanced enough to print our own missiles, we’re also advanced enough no longer need them.