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CNC machinists are critical to manufacturing metal parts for the aerospace and defense industries and make up the backbone of Primus’s defense oriented machine shop.
A common misconception is that manufacturing in the United States is disappearing due to outsourcing to low-cost countries (LCC). However, there are actually over 12 million filled manufacturing jobs, and a growing list of open industrial positions. Manufacturing is the sixth largest employer in the US economy, and fabricated metal is one of the top three sub-sectors of manufacturing in our country . Due to the COVID-related “great resignation” and previous focus on white collar careers, a skilled labor shortage exists throughout the US. As the aerospace manufacturing sector gains momentum post-pandemic, the demand for CNC machinists in Colorado will continue to grow. Primus Aerospace provides an exciting and meaningful work environment and has a team of experienced machinists with a wealth practical machining experience. These machinists are the backbone of our company.
Primus Aerospace has two primary locations: an aerospace production machine shop in Lakewood, Colorado and Primus’s Paradigm Division located in Golden, Colorado. The Golden location is an aerospace-specific prototyping machine shop that focuses on low volume, high precision parts for space applications. The Lakewood facility primarily focuses on efficient production of high-volume parts for the Aerospace and Defense industry. Each of these locations require highly skilled individuals to make Aerospace manufacturing possible
CNC Machinist Interviews:
The remainder of this article includes interviews with five of Primus’s talented machinists , providing insight about how they got their start as machinists and the career paths they’ve taken.
David T. (Paradigm CNC Programmer) – David is a senior CNC machinist and programmer at Primus Aerospace’s Paradigm Division. He has worked at Primus for over 11 years and is currently one of the senior machinists at the Golden location. He started his career as a machinist when he was 20 years old at a casting machine shop in Michigan. At that shop, he machined large housings for heavy equipment and machine finished cast iron components. He then moved to Colorado, where he started working for Paradigm which later became Primus Aerospace. At Paradigm, he had the opportunity to learn through the practical manufacturing of a variety of aerospace parts. He started as a CNC machine operator working second shift production, but soon learned enough to perform CNC programming as well. Today, David works independently to create prototype and production parts for satellites and manned space craft. This involves both programming and running the 5-axis CNC machines to produce parts as well as working hand in hand with mechanical engineering and quality assurance colleagues.
Zach M. (Paradigm CNC Programmer) – Zach performs CNC machine operation, programming, and set-up at Primus’s Golden location. He has been with Primus Aerospace for 6 months and has been an asset to our team. He started his machinist career when he was 17 years old at a tool and die shop. Here, he turned and milled set up and production parts while also designing several prototypes. He studied design at Keene State College in New Hampshire and was a TA for both the CNC programming and manual machining classes. He capitalized on this experience and interned at a plastic injection molding company, worked as a set-up machinist, and performed design work before arriving at Primus Aerospace.
Andrew D (CNC Programmer and Process Engineer) – Andrew works as a senior CNC programmer, machinist, and Process Engineer for Primus Aerospace’s Paradigm Division. He has worked at the company for two years but has 19 years of experience in machining. He started at Warren Tech when he was 16 and landed his first job as a CNC operator with Primus (after completing his technical training). He eventually completed a pre-engineering degree at Red Rocks Community College and went on to manage a local machine shop while owning / operating a snowboard company. After 10 years, he became a process and design engineer at another machine shop before re-joining Primus Aerospace.
Kelby C. (CNC Operator) – Kelby works as a CNC machinist at Primus’s Lakewood location. He has been working for Primus for four years. Kelby started as a deburr (finishing) technician in February 2018 and was promoted to CNC operator in 2019. Prior to manufacturing, he was a farm hand and learned all his practical machining skills on the job at Primus Aerospace. Kelby is a critical part of our production line that supports defense products.
Michael N. (CNC Setup Operator) – Michael has been working for Primus for 10 months but has 20 years of manufacturing experience. He started off at Pueblo Community College in their Machining Technology program to learn the basics of machining. Since then, he’s had the opportunity to work for several manufacturing and engineering companies. Michael sets up and runs critical 5-axis parts for a defense munitions program and is transitioning to become a CNC programmer. Part of this transition includes taking Mastercam classes (paid for by Primus) and working directly with our engineering and programming teams.
Colorado machinist culture
The CNC machinists and CNC operators at the Lakewood facility focus primarily on efficiency while producing aerospace grade parts. While working, Kelby likes to keep his bench highly organized. When operating a CNC, he lays out all his equipment in the order in which he is going to use it and confirms every operation he does at least once. He also always makes sure to check all paperwork he is referencing and makes sure the equipment he is using is calibrated. Michael N., on the other hand, takes a more open approach. He relies on his 20 years of experience to do whatever is needed in a precise and efficient manner.
At the Golden location, the focus is mainly on precision one-off parts, as this facility typically deals with more complex parts that are to be produced at lower quantities. When David T. is making a part, he takes the time to look at the part drawing and makes a plan on how to meet the tightest tolerances specified on the sheet. He also plans on how to relieve material and establish datum features early and in one fixture, if possible. Zach M. spends significant time with the part drawing and material details. He takes the tolerancing into account when deciding tooling, feeds, speeds, and fixturing. He also creates most of the machining program before cutting any metal and is open to adjusting his program as he progresses through production. Andrew D., on the other hand, uses his machinist experience and the that of the team around him to create a generalized production plan that is unique to each part.
Here at Primus Aerospace, we are always looking to add talented individuals to our team. At our company, even the most experienced CNC machinist will be able to grow their skillset and learn from those around them. Aside from a terrific career opportunity, our parts contribute directly to our national security and are helping put humans back into space. In the words of David T., “The work we do at Primus contributes to changing the course of history. It feels good knowing that something I am contributing to is going to change the way humanity sees the world in the future.” Kelby enjoys his work for a different reason. For him, he likes the people the most. He has fostered great friendships with his coworkers, and in his eyes, everyone treats him like family. As a younger guy, he has the chance to work on interesting aerospace projects and learn new skills along the way. All our employees also get to call Colorado home and get the chance to explore the outdoors on their time off. Being a CNC machinist, operator, or programmer is clearly a challenging profession, but the team culture and cutting-edge production of Primus Aerospace makes the challenge more than worth it.
- Facts about Manufacturing Jobs in the United States – Lincoln Tech
Primus Aerospace is developing a DoD Skillbridge / Career Skills Program (CSP) to assist transitioning service members start a career as a CNC machinist. Additional
details will be forthcoming but Primus Aerospace is excited to begin working with patriots transitioning from the US Army, US Navy, US Air Force, and US Marine Corps who are interested in CNC machinist careers in Colorado. Primus Aerospace offers a training course for transitioning service members to help start veterans on their machinist career.
Participation in DoD Skillbridge programs is open to all veterans, including service-disabled veterans. Completing the machinist Skillbridge internship with Primus Aerospace is intended to arm veterans with the knowledge and experience to start their career as a CNC machinist.
While all service members will be welcome to apply, we are especially excited to work with transitioning service members with technical ability / interest. This includes:
- United States Marine Corps – USMC
- 2161 Machinist
- 1341 Engineer Equipment Mechanic
- 1342 Small Craft Mechanic
- 3513 Body Repair Mechanic
- 3521 Automotive Organizational Technician
- 3522 Automotive Intermediate Mechanic
- 3523 Vehicle Recovery Mechanic
- 3524 Fuel and Electrical Systems Mechanic
- 3525 Crash/Fire/Rescue Vehicle Mechanic
- 6061 Aircraft Intermediate Level Hydraulic/Pneumatic Mechanic-Trainee
- 6062 Aircraft Intermediate Level Hydraulic/Pneumatic Mechanic
- 6113 Helicopter Mechanic, CH-53
- 6114 Helicopter Mechanic, UH/AH-1
- 6116 Tiltrotor Mechanic, MV-22
- 6122 Helicopter Power Plants Mechanic, T-58
- 6123 Helicopter Power Plants Mechanic, T-64
- 6124 Helicopter Power Plants Mechanic, T-400/T-700
- 6132 Helicopter/Tiltrotor Dynamic Components Mechanic
- United States Navy – USN Ratings
- Aviation Machinist Mate (AD)
- Machinist Mate (MM / MMN / MMA)
- United States Army – USA MOS
- 15G Aircraft Structural Repairer
- 15H Aircraft Pneudraulics Repairer
- 15N Avionic Mechanic
- 91A M1 Abrams Tank System Maintainer (formerly 63A)
- 91B Wheeled Vehicle Mechanic (formerly 63B)
- 91C Utilities Equipment Repairer (formerly 52C)
- 91D Power Generation Equipment Repairer (formerly 52D)
- 91E Allied Trades Specialist (formerly 91E and 91W)
- 91F Small Arms/Towed Artillery Repairer (formerly 45B)
- 91G Fire Control Repairer (formerly 45G)
- 91H Track Vehicle Repairer (formerly 63H)
- 91J Quartermaster and Chemical Equipment Repairer (formerly 63J)
- 91L Construction Equipment Repairer (formerly 62B)
- 91M Bradley Fighting Vehicle System Maintainer (formerly 63T)
- 91P Self Propelled Artillery Systems Maintainer (formerly 63D)
- 91S Stryker Systems Maintainer
- 89B Ammunition Specialist
- 89D Explosive Ordnance Disposal Specialist
- United States Air Force – USAF
- 2A3X3 – Tactical Aircraft Maintenance
- 2A3X4 – Fighter Aircraft Integrated Avionics (A-10, U-2, F-15, F-16)
- 2A3X5 – Advanced Fighter Aircraft Integrated Avionics (F-22, F-35, MQ-1, MQ-9, RQ-4)
- 2A3X7 – Tactical Aircraft Maintenance (5th Generation)(F-22, F-35)
- 2A3X8 – Remotely Piloted Aircraft Maintenance
- 2A5X1 – Airlift/Special Mission Aircraft Maintenance
- 2A5X2 – Helicopter/Tiltrotor Aircraft Maintenance
- 2A5X3 – Mobility Air Forces Electronic Warfare Systems
- 2A5X4 – Refuel/Bomber Aircraft Maintenance
- 2A6X1 – Aerospace Propulsion
- 2A6X2 – Aerospace Ground Equipment (AGE)
- 2A6X3 – Aircrew Egress Systems
- 2A6X4 – Aircraft Fuel Systems
- 2A6X5 – Aircraft Hydraulic Systems
- 2A6X6 – Aircraft Electrical and Environmental Systems
- 2A7X1 – Aircraft Metals Technology
- 2A7X2 – Nondestructive Inspection (NDI)
- 2A7X3 – Aircraft Structural Maintenance
- 2A7X5 – Low Observable Aircraft Structural Maintenance
- 2A8X1 – Mobility Air Forces Integrated Communication/Navigation/Mission Systems
- 2A8X2 – Mobility Air Forces Integrated Instrument and Flight Control Systems
- 2A9X1 – Bomber/Special Integrated Communication/Navigation/Mission Systems
- 2A9X2 – Bomber/Special Integrated Instrument and Flight Control Systems
- 2A9X3 – Bomber/Special Electronic Warfare and Radar Surveillance Integrated Avionics
- 2M0X2 – Missile and Space Systems Maintenance
- 2T3X1 – Mission Generation Vehicular Equipment Maintenance
- 2T3X1A – Fire Truck and Refueling Maintenance
- 2T3X1C – Material Handling Equipment Maintenance
- 2W0X1 – Munitions Systems
- 2W1X1 – Aircraft Armament Systems
We are particularly interested in working with Colorado Military installations, including:
- Fort Carson – FCCO
- Peterson Air Force Base – PAFB
- US Air Force Academy – USAFA
- Buckley Air Force Base – BAFB
- Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station – CMAFS
- Schriever Air Force Station – SAFS
To learn more about participating in the Primus Skillbridge Machinist Program, please check out our open roles or reach out to our Human Resources team at email@example.com
Space-based military applications are becoming increasingly important as orbital international competition and capabilities increase. Complex machining and turnkey manufacturing are essential to enabling collaboration between the private sector and US government to compete in the modern space race.
In the past decade, the realm of space has been revolutionized. Technologies such as reusable rocket engines, high complexity machining techniques, increasingly fuel efficient launch techniques, and new space-age materials have thrusted us into a new age of space exploration. With these innovations, comes a new set of national security challenges. New space players, such as China and India, are looking to make a foothold in Earth’s orbit with satellites and space stations of their own, and this will inherently result in conflict at various scales. America must find a way to protect its assets in space and secure a foothold to continue to explore new frontiers in the future and continue to enjoy current technologies enabled by space.
International trends in military space
Space militarization is not a new concept. The Cold War era space race between the United States and the Soviet Union was the first instance of this concept. Both nations raced to achieve superior spaceflight capability, and this period resulted in a leap in mankind’s technological capabilities without resulting in direct conflict. The realm of space was used by America to establish the Global Positioning System (GPS) and to conduct reconnaissance on the Soviet Union. The Soviets utilized space in a comparable manner by developing GLONASS (a technology similar to GPS), and by performing their own surveillance on the United States. From these basic beginnings of the military’s use of space, much evolution and development has occurred.
On March 27th, 2019, India announced that they had successfully tested an anti-satellite weapons system. It struck and destroyed an Indian Microsat-R satellite in a test flight that lasted about half a minute. The satellite in question had a surface area of two square meters and was flying at an altitude of 282 kilometers (925,197 feet) . Similarly, China fired on and destroyed one of its own satellites in 2007 demonstrating its ability to use ASAT, or anti-satellite, weapons. By doing so, they showed the world that the nation has a capable and rapidly growing space program . In the event of a conflict with China or India, anti-satellite weapons (ASATs) could wreak havoc on our military’s SATCOM capabilities as well impact our strategic reconnaissance assets. This could seriously hinder military efforts and be a major threat to national security.
China has also established a Strategic Support Force which focuses in part on the development of the nation’s space program . This in combination with China’s Tiangong space station, which is currently housing a crew of three astronauts, makes them a major threat to the United States. Iran also launched its first military satellite into low Earth orbit and announced its military space program on April 22, 2020, introducing another major player in extraterrestrial military operations . All these recent events clearly show that the era of U.S. and Russian space superiority is over. The United States must take serious steps to protect its assets in space.
US response to growing space threats
In response to these growing threats, the United States Space Force was established on December 20, 2019. This is a distinct branch of the armed services organized under the Air Force and its primary mission is to maintain, protect, and expand the fleet of advanced military satellites that form the backbone of U.S. global military operations . The United States have also been developing a space-based sensor system to detect and locate hypersonic missiles targeted at United States Satellites. There has also been research into a space-based ballistic missile interceptor and a directed energy weapon primarily used for intercepting incoming missiles . This is crucial due to the nature of hypersonic missiles. Because these weapons move at five times the speed of sound and have the capability to maneuver in a manner like a cruise missile for the entire duration of its flight, early detection and termination of these weapons is critical.
Considering China and Russia’s space-based offensive capabilities, low earth orbit military satellite constellations have become an attractive defense strategy. Traditional military satellites orbit the Earth at an altitude of 600 to 12,000 miles and are extremely expensive to replace. Low earth orbit satellite constellations, on the other hand, show potential to get military hardware into space at a much lower cost. Constellations are also more difficult to eliminate considering they are made up of a large fleet of satellites (often into the hundreds of individual units). An enemy would have to destroy copious quantities of these satellites to render military surveillance and communications useless. In contrast, it would only take a small number of attacks to eliminate our current military orbital infrastructure. DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), and Lockheed Martin are currently developing this technology under Project Blackjack . To achieve our nation’s goals in space we must progress our current technologies to meet the challenge of intercepting ASATs and hypersonic missiles, but we cannot neglect manufacturing new satellites and weapon defense systems in a precise, reliable, adaptable, and cost-effective manner. This is where Primus Aerospace’s expertise in turnkey manufacturing can be an asset to any defense contractor.
Manufacturing for defense space applications
Traditionally, manufacturers only oversee a small portion of a component’s fabrication because they specialize in that given area. Primus is unique because we handle programming, machining, assembly, quality assurance, and hand finishing all in-house. This allows our aerospace machine shop to be flexible to design changes, which are extremely common in the process of developing modern technologies for contract manufacturing. We also have a wealth of experience in manufacturing for defense projects, including weapons systems, missiles, rockets, aerostructures, hydraulics, actuators, landing gears, space systems, and satellites. We regularly work with aerospace primes to develop manufacturing systems that support the development of prototypes and rate production for sensitive programs. This experience will allow us to transition smoothly into the production of space specific military components.
Because of the development of military satellite constellations, our nation’s capacity for manufacturing aerospace grade components must also increase. This takes a combination of talented engineers, CNC programmers, machinists, and quality inspectors that few aerospace machine shops employ. Primus can produce high complexity, tight tolerance parts at scale and regularly works on ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) projects. In addition to this, we have working relationships with value added providers that support our manufacturing capacity with services such as plating, passivation, heat treatment, and anodization. Because of these factors, Primus Aerospace would be an asset to Project Blackjack and future programs like it.
Due to the nature of aerospace, parts must be as light as possible to save on cost. This requires minimalist design with structure in high stress areas, excellent surface finish to avoid fatigue failure due to stress concentration, and weight saving cut-outs in less critical areas. Because of Primus Aerospace’s precision machining capabilities, these design features can become a physical reality. In addition to all these factors, complicated aerospace parts must be made in rapid succession to replace damaged equipment in the hazardous and debris ridden environment that satellites inhabit. Primus Aerospace’s manufacturing prowess and advanced machinery allows for rate production of high complexity parts that can conquer the challenges that space militarization imposes on manufacturing.
One 5-axis CNC Machine on our shop floor that highlights our manufacturing capabilities is our DMG Mori DMU 125 P duoBLOCK. This machine can perform milling and turning in a single setup with part rotational speeds up to 500 RPM. The DMU also has 453 tool pockets, maximum X and Y travels of 49.2 inches, a maximum Z travel of 39.4 inches, a maximum workpiece diameter of 49.2 inches, and a maximum workpiece height of 63 inches. This machine also has exceptional accuracy due to a completely water-cooled feed drive and the incorporation of a spindle growth system. The system measures the thermal and centrifugal force extension of the spindle and provides feedback to the CNC to compensate for this positional error. These capabilities allow Primus to manufacture large, extremely complex parts with limited fixturing on a single machine .
It has come extremely clear to the defense community that the threat of an attack on United States space infrastructure is imminent. We must take steps as a nation to mitigate this risk. This can be done by increasing funding to the Air Force and Space Force, increasing public awareness of the issue, developing new technologies to strengthen our defenses against ASATs and hypersonic platforms, and increasing our aerospace manufacturing capabilities. It is a matter of national defense that can potentially save the lives of the men and women in our armed forces. Primus Aerospace is proud to be directly involved in the retooling of our space infrastructure.
 Russia Launches Sputnik – News Agency and Radio – into Information Space, its Global Signal Stronger than Ever – Digital Report
 US Space Force seeks civilians to join staff | DefenceTalk
 Project Blackjack: DARPA’s LEO satellites take off (airforce-technology.com)
 DMU 125 P duoBLOCK – 5-axis milling from DMG MORI
This article provides an overview of the differences between additive and subtractive manufacturing, 3D printing technologies, 3D printing applications for aerospace and defense parts, and a look at how Primus utilizes titanium printing to support customers.
What is the difference between additive and subtractive manufacturing techniques?
Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is the process of creating an object, such as a critical satellite component, using material deposition and numerous post processing techniques. This is different than traditional subtractive manufacturing in one main way. Instead of taking a block of raw material and using lathes, mills, and CNC machines to remove material in a controlled manner, material is selectively added to a blank slate to build a component from the ground up. Subtractive manufacturing typically
uses cutting tools such as end mills, boring bars, or drill bits to remove matter from a block, bar, or slug of raw material. The tool (or the material if the machine in question is a lathe) is spun at a rapid rate and is ran through the material at computer programmed locations where stock needs to be removed. Through 3 and 5 axis machining, the work can be spun along various axes to remove material to form complex shapes. One alternative to subtractive manufacturing is 3D printing.
This seemingly new technology can be traced back to 1925. A patent was issued for the use of arc welding techniques to create sculptures and decorative articles by depositing welded beads of metal on top of one another to form baskets and other household items. 3D printing first found its use in manufacturing in 1982 when United Technologies Research Center filed a patent for a “Method for Fabricating Articles be Sequential Layer Deposition.” Initially, Additive Manufacturing was only used for rapid prototyping to develop a model for parts to be later created using subtractive methods. It wasn’t until the 2000’s that Additive Manufacturing began to achieved production-grade parts primarily for the medical implant industry. Since then, additive manufacturing has crossed over to the Aerospace and Defense supply chain for making high precision, low volume parts and components.
What are the key types of additive manufacturing / 3D printing?
- Stereolithography – This method utilizes liquid plastic to create 3D objects through layer-by-layer deposition. Liquid resign is collected in a vat with a clear bottom. UV light is used to trace a pattern in the vat and selectively cure the resin. The object is dragged up by a platform to allow the part to grow from the base down . This type of 3D printing is primarily used for rapid prototyping as it is too slow to produce plastic parts in a cost-effective manner.
- Fused Deposition Modeling – Fused Deposition Modeling feeds a thermoplastic filament into an extruder. This plastic is then deposited onto a plate to build a part layer-by-layer from the ground up. This is the most common type of 3D printing and is often seen in entry level printers. This method is also used for rapid prototyping and can be used along with Stereolithography to create negative molds for metal casting.
- Sheet Lamination– Sheet Lamination utilizes a cutting device (usually a laser) to slice through thin layers of material. These cuts are then deposited layer-by-layer and glued together to form parts. This strategy can be used with plastics, wood, and even metal to create prototypes and production level parts.
- Powder Bed Fusion– This strategy employs a laser or electron beam to weld or sinter layers of powdered metal together to from a part. Powder bed fusion is commonly employed by the Aerospace, Defense, and medical industries to create intricate, low volume production parts. The printer used by Primus Aerospace falls under this category.
What types of aerospace projects are best performed on a 3D printer?
- Prototype parts – Producing 3D printed parts requires very little setup, additional tooling or fixtures to create working parts for prototype or R&D applications. This allows design modifications to be verified with minimal effort. Engineers may 3D print a part for a prototype but later transition to precision machined parts as the program enters production phase.
- Complex designs – 3D printing allows designers to create parts that could not be produced with traditional subtractive manufacturing techniques. While aerospace parts designers should not throw out the book on design for manufacturability (DFC), some applications do require designs that cannot be accomplished on a 5-axis CNC mill (such as integrated internal pathways and complex internal features).
- Lightweight requirements – Additive manufacturing allows the incorporation of weight saving features and innovative designs that cannot be traditionally machined, such as complex lattice structures and intricate hollow structures. For example, aerospace engineers designing parts for a commercial satellite (where weight represents a high-payoff Value Engineering effort) can shed costly weight without sacrificing strength.
- Low production volumes – One drawback of 3D printing is its part production time. For a powder bed fusion system, builds take at least one day to print causing this technology to not be applicable for high production parts (yet).…
Additive Manufacturing at Primus Aerospace
Primus primarily uses a Velo3D Sapphire Metal AM Printer for additive manufacturing aerospace projects. This machine is tailored to use powder bed fusion technologies to 3D Print space and satellite parts using a Ti 6Al-4V titanium alloy powder..
ThisThe Velo3D Titanium Printer works by using a vacuum powered contactless recoater to deposit titanium powder over a build plate. The recoater dumps material over the plate, and then uses a vacuum to suck up any access metal an
d ensure a consistent layer of powder. Two separate lasers sinter fuse the powder together in a predetermined pattern to methodically form a part from the base up. Fusion is the process of melting a two separate solid components and re-solidifying them together. This is done in layers that are slightly offset from one another to avoid empty space in the finished product. This ensures strength and reliability in precision aerospace parts. This is done on top of a build plate that sits on top of a piston, which lowers the plate to accommodate for each subsequent layer of titanium until the build is complete. The lasers and piston take instructions from Velo’s Flow software. This takes a CAD model of a part, slices it, and creates step by step instructions for the 3D printer to follow.
This machine has the capability to print material at low angles, parts with overhanging features, as well as internal passageways and cavities with little to no support structures. In turn, this decreases the need for post processing and allows primus to manufacture an extremely wide range of components. So far, we have used this machine to create one-piece parts with a high level of complexity, components with internal cooling passages, and thin-walled pressure vessels with an almost unattainable degree of precision.
Primus Aerospace supports aerospace, defense, and space manufacturers with build to print 3D printed titanium parts. Primus is able to combine this innovative 3D printing technology with other valued added services (such as finishing, grinding, or painting) and an aerospace AS9100 certified quality management system.
 3D Printing | An Overview of 3D Printing Technologies (techpats.com)
 3D Printed Lattice Structures and Generative Design • OpenFab PDX
 Velo3D launches its first metal Additive Manufacturing system (metal-am.com)
Images courtesy of Velo3D
My name is Josh Trujillo and I am a rising senior in the Colorado School of Mines Mechanical Engineering Department. I recently completed an internship with Primus Aerospace’s Paradigm Division as a Process Engineer.
My story with Primus Aerospace started when Gary Vallencourt, the Vice President of Primus Aerospace Paradigm Division, was bitten by a rattlesnake while paragliding. My stepmom, who owns Tonic Trails – a massage therapy and holistic medicine practice in Golden, Colorado, treated his swelling on short notice. Following the treatment, she got me in touch with Gary, helped me secure an engineering internship for summer 2021. That rattle snake unknowingly gave me a huge opportunity that I was not about to let slip through my fingers.
I was initially drawn to the field of mechanical engineering from my love of solving mechanical problems. I grew up riding mountain bikes and wanted to better understand what went into making such a complex system so I could fix my bike more effectively. My high school physics class further reinforced my desire to become a mechanical engineer as I found the study of motion extremely interesting (and I seem to have natural ability in the field). Since childhood, I’ve had a nascent interest in aerospace, but seeing a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch from Kennedy Space Center inspired me to chase my dream.
Going into the summer, I was excited to gain hands-on experience as a process engineer. I also had no idea what exactly my job was going to entail. In my head, I would either be making meaningful contributions to the company or getting Narate, my boss, coffee all summer. On my first day, I quickly realized that even though I was qualified to work there, I had a lot to learn. I expected to jump right in and be on par with the other engineers because I had extensive experience with CAD (Computer Automated Design) and was machine shop certified through the Colorado School of Mines.
In reality, I was quite novice at most of my daily tasks, when compared to Narate, a professional process engineer, and the machinists. Most of these skilled workers had spent at least 10 years mastering CNC programming, set up, and operation. I was playing well above my weight class, but I would not let this discourage me. To learn the nuances of advanced aerospace manufacturing, I shadowed Narate for my first week. He gave me simple tasks at first, like renaming files, running a gas line, and ordering and installing a gas regulator for Primus’s new Velo3D Sapphire titanium 3D printer.
I then moved on to deburring intake manifolds for an in-use rocket engine, which would be used on an upcoming space mission. Deburring machined parts is an important, yet tedious task, that removes small nicks and imperfections from a completed part. As I demonstrated my ability to read engineering plans and complete final finishing tasks, I earned the team’s trust to move on to higher level tasks. This let me begin setting up and operating CNC machines, learning basic CAM (Computer Automated Machining), and modifying CAD designed parts for 3D printing.
Here is a short list of a few things I accomplished during this stage of my internship:
- Designed and CNC machined a bracket to mount the argon regulator I previously ordered to the wall of the shop.
- Operated a 5-axis CNC machine to create ballasts for a satellite.
- Made modifications to parts to allow them to be printed in a metal powder bed fusion 3D printer.
- Performed basic set-up and calibration for the 3D printer.
- Basic CNC set up and operation for facing operations in support of the 3D printer.
- Modified, sliced, and printed several components for a mid-air airplane refueling station.
- Designed and 3D printed a custom bottle opener.
- Designed several fixtures for testing and manufacturing of various components.
Before I knew it, I was performing the daily operations of a process engineer by planning the top-to-bottom production of several space satellite components and aerospace 3D printed parts. This was not only a great experience, but also extremely rewarding – considering my skill set at the beginning of the summer. This progression would not have been possible without the guidance of my summer mentor, Narate. He greatly improved my design, engineering, CAD, and machining skills throughout the summer. Andy, the lead machinist, and the rest of the machinists in the shop also helped me a lot when it came to CNC operation and machining. These guys are all extremely skilled and I learned a great deal just by watching them work. John and Antonio, Primus’s quality inspectors, showed me some of the measuring and quality inspection techniques that allow machinists to feel confident in their machined aerospace parts. I felt as if everyone at Primus had my back and went out of their way to make me a part of the team. They included me in company potlucks, took me go-carting, and got to know me during down periods in the shop. I am very grateful to Gary and the Primus team for this opportunity, and look forward to future full-time opportunities at Primus!
Josh Trujillo is a Mechanical Engineering Student at the Colorado School of Mines.
What are hypersonic weapon systems?
Hypersonic weapons are missiles that travel at speeds in excess of Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound). These extreme speeds are intended to make them very difficult to intercept and able to surprise an enemy with a precision strike. They also differ from ballistic missiles in that hypersonic weapons utilize a very ‘flat’ target trajectory and are intended to be maneuverable throughout their flight.
Hypersonic weapons generally fall into two broader categories:
- Hypersonic Glide Vehicles (HGV) – HGVs are launched from a rocket and then enter hypersonic travel in a glide phase
- Hypersonic Cruise Missiles (HCM) – HCMs are self-powered by scramjet engines when towards their target
Hypersonic weapons are of military interest because their high speed, maneuverability, and low trajectory make them very difficult to detect by terrestrial-based radar systems until much later in the weapon system’s flight. This late detection further complicates the command and control decisions as well as the challenge of technical interception of the weapon.
Most conventional hypersonic weapons utilize kinetic energy which is the energy generated by the weapon system’s extreme speed to destroy its target. Certain Chinese and Russian hypersonic weapons are intended to carry nuclear payloads.
Hypersonic weapons are of interest to the U.S. military because they provide the ability to rapidly attack targets with minimal chance of interception / defeat. Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (VC-JCS) General John Hyten categorized the need for “responsive, long-range, strike options against distant, defended, and/or time-critical threats when other forces are unavailable, denied access, or not preferred.” Additionally, the growing hypersonic capabilities within the militaries of near-peer countries (e.g. China, Russia) creates the need for a similar capability within the U.S. military.
What are examples of U.S. hypersonic weapon programs?
Multiple U.S. military branches are pursuing hypersonic programs, including:
- US Army
- Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW)
- US Navy
- Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS)
- US Air Force
- AGM-183 Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW)
- Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM)
- Expendable Hypersonic Air Breathing Multi-Mission Demonstrator Program
- Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
- Missile Defense Agency (MDA)
- Hypersonic Defense Regional Glide Phase Weapons System interceptor
Where do hypersonic weapons sit in their development curve?
In the United States, hypersonic weapon systems are in a relatively early state of development. While the idea of hypersonic munitions has been around for quite some time, serious investment in technology and operational products only began our of haste in 2018. Some of the technology development has surrounded ramjet engines capable of Mach 5+ travel while other efforts have focused on the materials required to sustain extreme temperature fluctuations while remaining lightweight and strong. With multiple branches of the U.S. military pursuing slight variations of hypersonic missiles for their own branch needs, the entire breadth of the defense industry is engaged in the development of these systems within the United States.
The American defense establishment is limited by a few key factors on the trajectory towards operational hypersonic weapons:
- Limited test facility and ranges
- Limited supply chain capable of producing high tolerance, complex components using exotic materials
- Long-range flight test corridors
As of this article, the U.S. Military and defense prime contractors are actively testing prototype hypersonic weapons across the full range of programs.
How are hypersonic weapons made?
While the exact manufacturing processes and engineering designs remain classified, the basic manufacturing process is similar to other aerospace and defense programs. The United States Department of Defense establishes the requirements (in this case for hypersonic weapons) and then defense primes and aerospace original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) bid on the work. Once a Prime and/or OEM is selected to produce the weapon, it is then up to that company to develop a manufacturing program and supply chain to support it. In most cases, Primes and OEMs work with contracted machining suppliers and/or aerospace component manufacturers experienced in complex machining to produce the high-tolerance parts that form the backbone of the hypersonic weapon. Other supply chain partners focus on electronic components, fasteners, carbon fiber components, controls, and aerodynamic surfaces. These suppliers (known as Tier I and II Suppliers) produce components and assemblies that are ultimately assembled into the finished hypersonic missile by the Prime / OEM and destined
for the U.S. Government.
Which American defense suppliers (OEMs) are involved in manufacturing hypersonic systems?
What are unique considerations for manufacturing parts and components which support hypersonic weapons?
The supply chain for hypersonic weapon development and production is similar to that of other high-performance defense systems. Key considerations for these suppliers include:
- Rapid prototyping and development capability – As designers and engineers work through the initial design iterations, suppliers must be configured to produce prototype / Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP) parts rapidly and accurately.
- Ultra-high precision, complex machining – The high-velocity speeds of hypersonic systems requires high-tolerance components and assemblies to prevent failure during their use. These aerospace grade parts must be manufactured to exacting specifications and validated through stringent quality processes. Tolerances in the thousandths and millionths of an inch for linear, positional, and circular dimensions are common within hypersonic components.
- Ability to work with unique, exotic materials for heat tolerance and weight reduction – Hypersonic platforms and weapons experience extreme temperature fluctuations due to the speed and air friction they create. Additionally, the ability to achieve stable hypersonic speeds (Mach 5+) requires ultralight but extremely durable materials. These engineering challenges require contract manufacturers who can work with exotic alloys and materials such as Titanium, Inconel and Tantalum. In fact, the U.S. Air Force is currently sourcing carbon composite producers to develop a supply chain for production rates of ultra-lightweight structural components for hypersonic weapons.
- Suppliers configured for defense-specific security – It’s “no secret” that information and technical security is an essential part of delivering defense projects. Hypersonic projects require the highest levels of data security throughout their engineering and supply chain. The top defense suppliers (even Tier I and Tier II) must have extensive compliance experience with ITAR and relevant DFARS regulations. Additionally, hypersonic component suppliers should comply with the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) framework, accredited by an outside organization.
Primus Aerospace is a leading provider of high-precision, high-complexity machined components and assemblies for the aerospace, defense and space industries and a leading manufacturing partner to aerospace, defense & space OEMs / Primes & Tier I suppliers worldwide. Established in 1989, Primus Aerospace has grown into a vertically-integrated manufacturing operation that is strategically headquartered in Colorado and serves customers in North America, Europe, and the Middle East with a broad range of complex manufacturing, assembly, integration, and value-added services, including design & engineering support, program management and secondary manufacturing & processing capabilities. The company’s strategic focus is directed towards advanced manufacturing capabilities, automation & robotics integration and technical resources to drive turnkey solutions & world-class service for its customers. Primus Aerospace offers a broad array of build-to-print manufacturing and integration services, including multi-axis, complex machining, mechanical and electrical assembly, 3D titanium printing, water jet cutting, EDM, testing and design support. Primus is committed to delivering the most complex & critical solutions to the Aerospace & Defense industry by aligning capabilities and processes with the market’s evolving needs.
Congressional Research Service Report R45811
Government Accountability Office (GAO)
DoD Press Release – June 9, 2021
Cybersecurity in DOD Supply Chains