A company that develops advanced welding systems is taking a role in the defense supply chain to optimize production and repair of critical parts. Announcing the project, the U.S. Dept. of Defense referred to a novel electron-beam process as a “game changer” for aerospace manufacturing.

Chicago-based Sciaky Inc. has entered a DoD-sponsored Mentor-Protégé Agreement with Lockheed Martin’s Aeronautics business through which the latter will help Sciaky expand the manufacturing capacity and management infrastructure of the Electron Beam Direct Manufacturing process it developed with assistance from DoD’s Small Business Innovative Research program. Lockheed’s effort will be directed at fostering production of high-quality, titanium raw material pre-forms in quantities required by DoD and its prime contractors.

DoD’s Mentor-Protégé Program helps small businesses to compete for prime contract and subcontract awards by partnering them with large companies in project-based agreements. According to Sciaky, the initial focus of its new agreement will be to manufacture titanium structural components for Lockheed Martin’s F-35 aircraft program.

Electron Beam Direct Manufacturing combines additive manufacturing principles, computer-aided design (CAD), and electron-beam welding technology to create structural components. Starting with a 3D model from a CAD program, a fully articulated, moving electron beam gun deposits metal in carefully positioned locations and layers until the part is ready for finish machining. Deposition rates may range from 15 to 40 lb of metal per hour, depending on the part being manufactured. “To date, it stands as the only commercially available, large-scale, fully programmable means of achieving near-net shape parts,” according to Sciaky.

“While the early focus is going to be F-35, we ultimately plan to implement Electron Beam Direct Manufacturing technology across the breadth of our aircraft product lines to improve affordability and lead-time for titanium structures,” stated Lockheed Martin Aeronautics’ Brian Rosenberger.

Morehouse College will support the agreement through its Entrepreneurial Center in Atlanta, with training, mentoring and consultation for Sciaky in Enterprise/Manufacturing Resource Planning. Also, the University of Texas at El Paso will provide Quality Systems process training to Sciaky as part of the agreement.