US military to 3D print its way out of supply chain issues

Maintaining mission-critical supply chains is nothing new in military operations. But when contract manufacturing partners struggle to overcome pandemic-induced backlogs, raw materials are stuck in ports, and chip shortages interrupt production lines, the U.S. military turns to the 3D printing to obtain essential parts and components.

Recently, the US Navy released a plan to match suppliers who cannot meet the growing demand for underwater parts with 3D printing companies capable of printing the metal parts around the clock to increase the offer.

According to matt sermonexecutive director of the Program Executive Office Strategic Submarines, this plan will help Navy contractors – many of whom are the only sources of components for the Navy – by taking the pressure off as they struggle to cope with the current workload. .

Last week, the Department of Defense released its assessment of critical defense supply chains in response to President Biden’s 2021 Executive Order on American supply chains. The report recommends the military expand its use of 3D printing (also known as “additive manufacturing”) as a key focus area and strategic enabler necessary for mission success.

3D printing of spare parts is actually nothing new to the US military. 3D printed parts are currently found in critical aircraft engines, on tanks and submarines, and on soldiers themselves.

In fact, the use of 3D printing in the US military is now so widespread that the Department of Defense has implemented additive manufacturing. strategy last year that outlines the technologies and applications it intends to fund and employ across all industries. Its detailed 3D printing strategy calls for the military to use 3D printing to rapidly prototype and produce replacement parts, and to use on the battlefield to produce “innovative solutions”.

“Additive manufacturing provides the DoD with unprecedented supply chain agility while enabling our developers to maintain technological dominance of our Warfighters,” said Robert Gold, Director of Engineering Enterprise at the Department of Defense. .

Additive manufacturing enables the military to produce new products quickly and cost-effectively, on demand and at the point of need, whether on base, at sea or on the front line. It bolsters the life of legacy systems and vehicles that might otherwise be retired.

A few years ago, Wichita State University in Kansas, in conjunction with the US military, disassembled a Black Hawk helicopter piece by piece to 3D scan each component. Detailed digital 3D models can now be instantly and securely sent to any military 3D printer anywhere for 3D printing of spare parts at any time.

The U.S. military is already widely using — or experimenting with — 3D printing for everything from spare parts for fighter jets to concrete barracks for remote outposts.

The US Department of Veterans Affairs is an avid user of 3D printing technology. His VHA 3D printing network is responsible for coordinating 3D printing initiatives at over 33 VA facilities nationwide, producing pandemic PPE, custom prosthetics, dental tools, and medical models.

The United States Marine Corps’ Advanced Manufacturing Operations Cell (AMOC) fulfills orders for additively manufactured parts throughout the Marine Corps and develops 3D printable solutions that can then be sent to 3D printers in the field. The Marines also learned how to 3D print a concrete bunker in just 36 hours, large enough to hide a truck-mounted multiple rocket launcher system.

The US Army’s Rock Island Arsenal Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence is just one of the sites housing the Army’s collection of 3D printing technologies. A new additive manufacturing lab for metal parts is set to open at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City later this year. Rock Island recently announced the acquisition of a second metal 3D printer from an Australian manufacturer WarpSPEE3D, which uses high-speed metal fabrication technology that can print tools and spare parts in hours. The 3D printing unit can be deployed in the front line in a small container.

The ability to bring manufacturing to the front line dramatically reduces the cost and time of shipping spare parts from overseas machine tool centers. The DoD has contracted metal 3D printer maker ExOne to develop a 40-foot-long portable additive manufacturing unit to be deployed on land and at sea.

the Army Research Laboratory is currently working on how forward deployed units can reduce supply chain dependency by using available plastic packaging materials as feedstock for 3D printers which can then produce a wide range of parts, tools and supplies.

There is no shortage of parts and products the US military needs to ensure they are available when and where they are needed. From 3D-printed door handles and Humvee rifle grips to PPE and specialty tools, the uses of 3D printing within the military are vast and growing, and perhaps a universal roadmap to bolster security. supply chain resilience.

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