October 2, 2015 – U.S. Department of Commerce, Guest post by Lockheed Martin
It’s not unusual for a mechanical engineer to like cars—tinkering with parts and piecing them together into a moving, roaring, rumbling machine.
However, recent innovations in manufacturing have changed the way people like Thomas Hiromoto, a car enthusiast and mechanical engineer at Lockheed Martin, think about production.
If there was a car part that he couldn’t easily build or buy, Hiromoto would 3-D print a new one.
Outside of amateur racing, Thomas Hiromoto had the opportunity to build and test the Common Vehicle while serving as the program’s lead engineer. Hiromoto is a car enthusiast and mechanical engineer at Lockheed Martin who has based his career on additive manufacturing.
“There’s been a huge push for collaborative engineering—bringing manufacturing into the process as early on as possible and designing parts from the ground up to reap the benefits of affordability,” Hiromoto said. “Additive manufacturing has been a huge facilitator in that.”
Industrial 3-D printing, known as additive manufacturing, is the process of using a 3-D design to build a product layer-by-layer out of a range of materials from plastics to metals.
For the last five years, Hiromoto has worked on the Advanced Manufacturing Technology team at Lockheed Martin, helping research emerging technologies to prepare the factory for future programs as well as assess affordability on current programs.
As he started experimenting with additive technology, Hiromoto recalls a particularly memorable project requiring him to design a small electronics system that would fit onto an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Not surprisingly, the size and weight of the system was Hiromoto’s biggest concern.
“As I started thinking about how I would package all of the components together, I realized the tightest packaging was not a box but rather a very non-conventional shape,” Hiromoto said.
He came up with a complex design for a housing that worked around all of the system’s components and then printed it in the lab. In the end, his design was about half the size of a traditional box-shaped housing and was built overnight without the need for tooling.
When he’s not working in the lab, Hiromoto can be found on some of the world’s most renowned race tracks. He does track driving as part of High-Performance Driving Events and has participated in amateur competitions. He also volunteers as a driving instructor, teaching people how to be safe on the tracks.
While he doesn’t compete as much these days, he is looking forward to a bright future with his work in additive manufacturing. In particular, he is supporting a project with the University of Texas-El Paso through America Makes, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute.
The team is designing a manufacturing suite that will affordably produce satellites or parts for UAVs at the push of a button.
“The concept is to build electronics into the structure itself,” Hiromoto said. “Before, we would have separate assemblies of electrical harnesses that would later have to be installed, which adds a lot of expensive touch labor that we don’t need anymore.”
Companies like Lockheed Martin are partnering with government and academia through America Makes and the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation to help realize the benefits that manufacturing innovations bring to industry.
“We are looking at it from a very broad perspective, whereas others may only be focused on single technologies,” Hiromoto said. “We’re printing everything from electronics and polymers, all the way up to high-temperature metals, and we’re putting in a level of rigor that hasn’t been seen in the commercial world.”
The information above is for general awareness only and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Office of Economic Adjustment or the Department of Defense as a whole.