As a leading center for materials science research and high-performance computing (HPC), Lawrence Livermore is an ideal institution at which to perform innovative manufacturing research to advance technologies in support of national security. Additive manufacturing (AM), also known as three-dimensional (3D) printing, is a particularly exciting area that we think could revolutionize how the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) produces the parts needed to maintain the safety, security, reliability, and effectiveness of the nuclear stockpile and to bring about a more cost-effective and responsive stockpile. To this end, we are pioneering new approaches and customizing existing AM technologies to meet our unique manufacturing needs. This effort is described in Next-Generation Manufacturing for the Stockpile.
Successfully carrying out a mission of such magnitude requires partnerships with industry, academia, and other federal laboratories. Lawrence Livermore has been working closely with Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories and the NNSA production plants on a range of stockpile-related AM projects, from fundamental research of the materials and processes involved in AM to the application and refinement of methods for additively manufacturing tools and weapons components. Livermore has helped form the California Network for Manufacturing Innovation, an organization that brings together manufacturers, national laboratories, government agencies, universities, and workforce and economic development organizations to accelerate manufacturing innovation. We are also part of America Makes, a network of companies, nonprofit organizations, academic institutions, and government agencies working to foster collaboration and encourage growth in 3D printing technology and applications. External engagements and collaborations not only help the Laboratory fulfill its national security research and development mandate but also support the nation’s economic competitiveness.
Livermore’s computing and simulation capabilities, originally developed to understand and predict nuclear weapons performance, have proven to be a powerful tool for analyzing and optimizing manufacturing processes and efficiencies. The Accelerated Certification Initiative, discussed in Building the Future: Modeling and Uncertainty Quantification for Accelerated Certification, unites HPC, uncertainty quantification (UQ), materials science, and manufacturing research in an effort to better understand the connection between manufacturing processes, material structure, material properties, and component performance. UQ tools such as data mining help winnow the number of parameters involved in process and part optimization to a reasonable quantity for further study and experimentation, while HPC-based modeling and simulation support more efficient virtual design, prototyping, and testing of parts.
Livermore is developing these robust HPC-based AM process modeling capabilities in partnership with other NNSA laboratories and production plants. As our process understanding and predictive modeling capability improve, we should be able to significantly reduce the amount of trial and error involved in manufacturing and more quickly arrive at qualified materials and components with fewer required tests. These tools are also attracting interest from potential industry and university collaborators. Their wider application could in turn help drive AM process improvements. A related area of AM research at the Laboratory involves implementing process inspection and control features into 3D printers. Real-time process analysis—an area in which we excel—could enable us to precisely control part quality and perhaps even to produce parts that are “born certified.”
Livermore’s core national security mission remains focused on the maintenance of a safe, secure, reliable, and effective nuclear stockpile, but the science discoveries and technology developments made in support of this mission benefit a broad portfolio of national security work performed at the Laboratory. For example, the accelerated design and prototyping of parts that AM enables could also help us rapidly evolve battlefield capabilities and strengthen our nonnuclear defense. On the intelligence front, AM research gives us unique insights into potential proliferation paths that might be taken elsewhere in the world. Although rooted in our stockpile mission, AM research under way at Lawrence Livermore is likely to bear diverse fruit.