Missile flies with first 3D printed connector

Louise Smyth

A 3D printed backshell for a connector has flown on a US missile system for the first time, writes Nick Flaherty.

The Trident II D5 fleet ballistic missile is developed by Lockheed Martin and engineers have used an entirely digital process to design and fabricate a connector backshell in half the time of traditional methods. The backshell, which protects cable connectors in the missile, is made from an aluminium alloy using an additive manufacturing process and measures about an inch across.

The D5 missile has had a total of 160 successful test flights since the design was completed in 1989. In the most recent tests, the Navy launched the unarmed missiles in the Atlantic Ocean from a submerged submarine. The missiles were converted into test configurations using kits produced by Lockheed Martin that contain range safety devices and flight telemetry instrumentation.

“These tests demonstrate the readiness and reliability of this crucial system that protects what matters most for the nation,” said Eric Scherff, vice president of Fleet Ballistic Missile programs, Lockheed Martin Space Systems.

The 3D-printed component for the D5 missile is an example of the improved products and processes enabled by Lockheed Martin’s Digital Tapestry manufacturing tools that connect a product’s digital life from concept to production and roll out. Lockheed Martin also has flown additively manufactured parts on planetary probes, satellites and spacecraft for human use.