Northrop Grumman prototypes display model with Stratasys technology

Northrop Grumman has partnered with global additive manufacturing leader, Stratasys, to prototype a rocket motor display model to demonstrate real-time munition health monitoring to customers globally.

The global aerospace and defense company deals with integrated munition health management (IMHM) technology which is partnered with sensors to enable internet-of-things (IoT) connectivity, digital-twin modeling, and augmented reality (AR) data presentation for real-time monitoring of solid rocket motors.

Traditionally, periodic fleet sampling is performed where motors that are still functioning well could be decommissioned due to a few rogue motors that aren’t performing reliably.

“Today we take a few motors out of service and test them, then statistically relate the results to the rest of the fleet. If they are not performing reliably, we may decommission the entire fleet,” says Nathan Christensen, senior manager of engineering and scientific methods at Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems (NGIS).

Current sampling tests, however, leads to uncertainty in fleet life where a fleet of munitions might have to be retired after just 13 years of service if test failures exceed a threshold. But with IMHM technology, individual motors can be tracked where faulty ones can be swapped out at 22 years while working motors could last as long as 41 years.

To educate potential customers on the use of IMHM, Northrop enlisted the service of Stratasys to rapidly prototype a display model. Two distinct 3D printing techniques from Stratasys were employed – Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) and PolyJet, to correctly represent the rocket motor with its rigid casing, rubber-like propellant, and the insulation layer in between.

FDM was used to produce the rigid rocket motor using ABS thermoplastic, while PolyJet was used to produce the propellant and insulation layer – which have different hardness’s – as a single piece. An improved version was proposed from the initial print to better represent the technology, and an iteration was produced quickly.

“Stratasys built a rapid prototype that simulates a motor, an inert one we can take on the road, with its hard casing and rubber-like propellant relatively close to correct stiffness modulus,” says Christensen.

Northrop is currently monitoring motors in different environments inside its production plant under a two-year U.S. Air Force program to validate the technology, with the goal to incorporate the technology into its next-generation products.

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Source: Aviation Week