The aerospace and defense industry continues to be a hotbed of patent innovation. Activity is driven by modernization imperatives, industrial automation, platform digitization, and growing importance of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), alternative propulsion solutions, materials science and additive manufacturing. In the last three years alone, there have been over 237,000 patents filed and granted in the aerospace and defense industry, according to GlobalData’s report on 3D printing in defense: spacecraft 3D printingBuy the report here.

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According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which uses over 206,000 patents to analyze innovation intensity for the aerospace and defense industry, there are 110 innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.

Spacecraft 3D printing is a key innovation area in 3D printing

3D printing or additive manufacturing is the process whereby three-dimensional products can be produced through the iterative layering of precursor materials using a specialized printer. This process has been leveraged across numerous industries to streamline manufacturing processes through greater efficiency, precision and cost-reduction. Due to these inherent benefits, 3D printing practices are being increasingly used in the space domain to manufacture products and components of all sorts suing a variety of materials such as ceramics, metals, plastics and composites to produce completed systems including spacecraft.

GlobalData’s analysis also uncovers the companies at the forefront of each innovation area and assesses the potential reach and impact of their patenting activity across different applications and geographies. According to GlobalData, there are 10+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established aerospace and defense companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of spacecraft 3D printing.

Key players in spacecraft 3D printing – a disruptive innovation in the aerospace and defense industry

‘Application diversity’ measures the number of applications identified for each patent. It broadly splits companies into either ‘niche’ or ‘diversified’ innovators.   

‘Geographic reach’ refers to the number of countries each patent is registered in. It reflects the breadth of geographic application intended, ranging from ‘global’ to ‘local’.  

Patent volumes related to spacecraft 3D printing

Company Total patents (2010 - 2022) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
Lockheed Martin 1 Unlock Company Profile
3M 7 Unlock Company Profile
BAE Systems 7 Unlock Company Profile
Raytheon Technologies 7 Unlock Company Profile
Materion 2 Unlock Company Profile
Boeing 41 Unlock Company Profile
Airbus 109 Unlock Company Profile
Cosan 1 Unlock Company Profile
Rocket Lab USA 4 Unlock Company Profile
Raytheon 8 Unlock Company Profile
DXC Technology 10 Unlock Company Profile
L3Harris Technologies 6 Unlock Company Profile
Vector Launch 3 Unlock Company Profile
Tether 1 Unlock Company Profile
Shanghai Aerospace Equipments Manufacturer 1 Unlock Company Profile
Redwire 21 Unlock Company Profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Airbus is the leading patent filer within the 3D printed spacecraft segment due to the company’s widespread integration of 3D printing capabilities within its rapidly growing space systems supply chain. Patents published by the company have included various design methodologies for 3D printed subcomponents including axles, shafts, panels, tools and countless other products required in the development of a complete spacecraft product.

Some other key patent filers in this domain include Boeing and Redwire.

In terms of application diversity, L3Harris Technologies leads the pack, while RTX (formerly Raytheon Technologies) and Airbus stood in the second and third positions, respectively. By means of geographical reach, Redwire held the top position, followed by RTX and Airbus.

To further understand the key themes and technologies disrupting the aerospace and defense industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on 3D Printing in Aerospace and Defense.

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GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.

GlobalData’s Patent Analytics tracks patent filings and grants from official offices around the world. Textual analysis and official patent classifications are used to group patents into key thematic areas and link them to specific companies across the world’s largest industries.