Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What drives our leading edge technology?

The development of aircraft like the F-35.

Many critics like to characterize military programs as giant money sink holes from which nothing good or of wider use emerges.  That's far from the truth.  In fact, many advanced programs are at the bleeding edge of technology and are the vehicles by which new and advanced technologies are developed and fielded.

Here's an example of that:
Lockheed Martin's leading role as a manufacturer in the nanotechnology space is one example of a company leveraging its technical prowess to develop enabling and revenue-generating manufacturing technologies. Nanocomposites have been incorporated into the wingtip fairings of the company's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, resulting in "significant cost savings," says Steve Meier, vice president of new business initiatives. 
The company received approval in 2011 from the F-35 Joint Program Office to substitute a nanostructure thermoplastic material for a considerably more expensive continuously reinforced carbon fiber wingtip fairing, says Travis Earles, Lockheed Martin's senior manager for advanced materials and nanotechnology initiatives.  
The technology, called Advanced Polymers Engineered for the Extreme (APEX), was part of an effort to develop lighter-weight materials under a manufacturing cost-reduction initiative. "We were able to significantly reduce the cost of the part, and as an extension of that make a significant impact in the fleet production cost with that single part," Earles says. The company would not specify how much it has saved with the new wingtip fairing material. Lockheed Martin has identified more than 100 additional parts for potential APEX insertion into the F-35 to achieve additional cost savings, Meier says. The company also is examining other platforms within its portfolio that may benefit from APEX.
The point, of course, is self-explanatory.  Nanocomposites (and nanotechnology) are the future. The F-35 provides both the platform for their development, but also their fielding and testing.  Practical application of a new and growing field.  And it is only one of many critical new technologies being developed, used and tested on the aircraft.
With Department of Defense budget cuts looming, Lockheed Martin is under increasing pressure to reduce costs. "In a constrained budget environment, technology investments must have direct impact on future growth," Meier says. "Nanotechnology has already demonstrated the potential to improve performance while simultaneously reducing costs."
And developments like nanocomposites are going to make those impacts if they're given the opportunity to develop and help us maintain our technological edge in defense.


No comments:

Post a Comment