ARLINGTON, Va., Dec. 8 (UPI) -- An automated thermoforming process for making canopies for F-35 fighters has earned a Department of Defense honor for the Office of Naval Research.
The entire process to produce a canopy for the F-35 will take just two or three days.
Currently, technicians load an acrylic shell into a forming tool and load the assembly into an oven heated to 200 degrees. The canopy is formed during a span of as much as six days, and workers have to regularly enter the oven to makes to manually adjust positioning clamps to control the forming process.
ONR said the process from its Manufacturing Technology, or ManTech, was recently recognized with the Department of Defense's Joint Defense Manufacturing Technology Achievement Award, presented at a Defense Manufacturing Conference in San Antonio, Texas.
The process will be used to make more than 2,000 canopies for F-35 Lightning II fighters and will result in an overall savings of nearly $125 million by using a control system with cameras to see inside the thermoforming oven for canopies to calculate the rate at which the canopy's shape is forming. Clamps then automatically adjust to ensure the shape remains uniform throughout the process to meet F-35 requirements.
"This award confirms our commitment to developing the most efficient and cost-effective ways to manufacture some of the most critical hardware our sailors and Marines use," said John Carney, director of ONR's ManTech program.
ONR ManTech partnered with experts from the F-35 Program Office, Naval Air Systems Command, GKN Aerospace Transparency Systems and Penn State's Applied Research Laboratory to develop the automated system.
GKN Aerospace Transparency Systems, in coordination with the F-35 Program Office, will implement the new canopy-making process next May.
ONR works with industry and academia to provide the science and technology needed by the Navy and Marine Corps.