Raytheon Missile Systems' scientists have used 3D printing to create almost every component of a guided weapon, including rocket engines and fins, as well as parts for the guidance and control systems.
The move forms part of a companywide push into 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, including projects intended to supplement legacy manufacturing processes.
The technique is being considered to lay down conductive materials for electrical circuits, create housings for the company's gallium nitride transmitters, and fabricate fins for guided artillery shells.
The technique enables engineers to make quick design and rapid changes, thereby reducing the costs associated with traditional manufacturing, such as machining of parts.
Raytheon additive manufacturing and 3D printing engineer Travis Mayberry said in a statement: "You can design internal features that might be impossible to machine.
"We're trying new designs for thermal improvements and lightweight structures, things we couldn't achieve with any other manufacturing method."
Raytheon University of Massachusetts Lowell Research Institute engineers are currently developing ways to print complex electronic circuits and microwave components, building blocks of advanced radars used in products, such as the Patriot air and missile defence system.
While the existing method of building microscopic circuits involves removal of material to create a circuit pathway, 3D printing lays down the material needed to build the electronic pathway only.
Although circuits can already be printed with inkjet printers, the company aims to print more complicated circuits in three dimensions, with the very-high-resolution and performance of silicon.
Already capable of laying down the conductors and dielectrics needed for printed electronics, the engineers can now produce carbon nanotubes, tiny structures made of linked carbon atoms, and are working to align them to build futuristic circuits.
Image: Raytheon researchers have created nearly every component of a guided weapon using 3D printing. Photo: courtsey of Raytheon.