Report: Automated manufacturing could drive $125 million from cost of F-35 canopies

The Office of Naval Research (ONR) has developed a method to build canopies for the F-35 Lightning II that could reduce the costs of the Joint Strike Fighter program by as much as $125 million.

ONR has found a way to automate the manufacturing process for the canopies (which consist of the transparent portion of the cockpit) that is both safer and more cost effective, and have received the Department of Defense’s Joint Defense Manufacturing Technology Achievement Award for their efforts.

From Flight Global:

The existing canopy manufacturing process requires loading an acrylic shell into a forming tool, which then is slid into a 93.3°C (200°F) oven. The canopy forms within the mold over six days, during which “workers regularly enter the oven to makes observations and manually adjust positioning clamps to control the forming process”, ONR says.

ONR’s new method includes cameras and clamps that adjust automatically to maintain a uniform canopy shape, thus relieving workers from having to enter the oven. The process also takes only two to three days, ONR says.

Development of the automation process began in 2011 and cost $1.3 million, which ONR officials said was a worthy investment that would yield substantial savings. GKN Aerospace Transparency Systems plans to begin building canopies using the automated process in May.

“The potential cost savings represent a huge return on a relatively small initial investment by ONR,” says Neil Graf, programme officer for ONR ManTech.

Click here to read the full Flight Global report, and visit F35.com to find out more about the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program.