How Lockheed Martin Anticipates Customer Needs:
An Idea Inspired by Nature
Lockheed Martin’s customer-first mentality is a big way the company stands out from its competitors. Often that dedication translates into teams going above and beyond to anticipate customer needs and create innovative solutions before being asked to do so. That’s what happened when Joseph Keegan, an aeronautical engineer, proposed an unexpected idea – a biofouling reduction film that imitates nature.
Biofouling is the buildup of barnacles and microorganisms on ocean-going vessels such as ships and unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs). This buildup is a naturally occurring process which can increase drag and decrease ship fuel economy, ultimately costing customers hundreds of millions of dollars. The United States Navy needs to eliminate biofouling growth along the underside of its ships, which involves a cleaning process that requires a ship to be out of commission for up to 18 months and hundreds of hours of manual labor.
Typically, ocean vehicles like ships use anti-fouling paints that contain heavy metals and pollute marine environments. As the ship sits in the water, the heavy metals leech out and fall to the bottom of marinas, killing off organisms. Many harbors are beginning to ban anti-fouling paints and the need is growing for a sustainable option that could be recycled or possibly biodegrade.
Imagine if there were a more effective and environmentally friendly way to eliminate biofouling that saved time and money?
This was the question that Keegan asked himself as he sat in a design workshop. Keegan decided to apply for funding for a project that mimicked how a sea snake mitigates biofouling growth. The sea snake has a clever way to mitigate growth by organically shedding its skin to rid itself of biofouling growth and disease when the growth begins to affect its movement. Keegan applied the idea to the defense industry and was inspired to field technology for a thin, multilayered film (patent pending) that would allow ocean vessels the ability to safely and sustainably shed biofouling growth for a fraction of the current cost.
The idea for multilayer films isn’t without precedence. The same kind of concept has been deployed in NASCAR, Formula 1 and motocross racing where crews remove layers of film dirtied by insects and mud from windshields and helmet visors to see more clearly. But, the application of this idea to maritime vessels to address biofouling growth is unique.
A Lockheed Martin team took the idea from paper to prototype and went to Ventura Harbor, California to conduct static testing of a multilayer mylar skin on various surfaces including fiberglass, steel and aluminum. After leaving the prototype in the harbor for a little over a month, results confirmed that the films were effective in demonstrating that biofouling growth could be easily removed by peeling a layer of the film. The test was also successful in proving that the films did not allow for biofouling growth to occur between the multiple layers of film or underneath the four-layer prototype. No degradation to the films has been observed in the five months of testing.
Having successfully proven the film’s applications in static conditions, the team partnered with Ventura’s harbor master to conduct high-speed testing. This next phase of testing demonstrated the effectiveness of bonding agents with the dynamic forces present during high speed maneuvers. Preliminary results show that the film can stay adhered to a vessel – in this case a jet ski from the harbor patrol – at speeds of 40 mph without any sign of degradation. Additional experiments conducted at low speeds have shown that the use of drag-induced, deployable appendages, such as a parachute, can allow a vessel to shed the film autonomously.
The team has made great strides, but further efforts are needed to successfully implement this biofouling film technology, patent pending, onto proposals and current platforms.
The biomimetic biofouling reduction film was an unusual idea born from recognizing a customer need and brought to life by a trusted and talented team with a proven method for fielding innovative solutions. With the potential to reduce the time a Navy ship remains out of commission for cleaning, this nature-inspired design idea could not only save money and enable greater mission readiness, it highlights Lockheed Martin’s enduring capacity for innovation and steadfast commitment to serving its customers.