US Army developing process for using 3D printing at depots and in the field
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army has an overarching concept for how it wants to use 3D printing and additive and subtractive manufacturing in the service, but it now has to develop a process for using the capabilities across the chain from arsenals, depots and plants down to the tactical level, Gen. Gus Perna, the Army Materiel Command commander, said.
The Army has dabbled in 3D printing even at an expeditionary level with mobile trailers and has provided 3D printers that can produce polymers for some critical replacement parts like plastic caps, but as technology is evolving, the service is codifying a means to effectively use capability across the force.
The Army secretary signed an Advanced Manufacturing policy in October 2019 that does just that in order to enhance the supply chain, both in the field and at maintenance depots, Perna told Defense News in a statement in December.
But now that there is a policy in place to move forward, an executive order is being developed to support execution, equipment has been purchased and the Army’s Advanced Manufacturing Center of Excellence has been established at Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois, it’s time to develop a process, Perna told reporters at a Feb. 4. Defense Writers Group event in Washington, DC.
At this point, the plan is to make Rock Island “the hub” of additive manufacturing capability and then selectively choose capability to reside at the 25 other various depots, plants and arsenals, Perna said.
The Army has invested roughly $25 million in equipment at the hub and, according to Perna, that has filled roughly a quarter of a warehouse at Rock Island that he’d like to see eventually reach capacity.
The service has delivered capability out to the remaining depots, arsenals and plants but, “we’ve got ink spots here, we are not there yet. We are working on that,” Perna said.
Then the Army is putting out capability into divisions. While all divisions are currently authorized to buy additive manufacturing equipment, only a few are actually trying out 3D printing at the tactical level at this point.
The 25th Infantry Division in the Pacific and 2ID in South Korea are both conducting limited testing on specific capability and the Army expects to bring back results from that to help guide the way forward, Perna said.
Bringing the capability into the field is challenging because what goes into a tactical environment has to be able to move quickly and there has to be a decent power source for everything to work, according to Perna.
“I can’t just put a plethora of machines out there,” Perna said. “I have to get the right machines. So I want machines out there that can fix what we call readiness drivers. Things that break down a lot so that they can be done forward.”
He added that he is pacing the process because he doesn’t want to send capability worth millions of dollars out into the field to make things like “door handles or replica coins or ash trays. I want to lead us through this.”
In addition to that challenge, Perna said, the one missing piece to the puzzle is creating a digital thread to connect the home base to the depots, arsenals and plants then down to the divisions so that, no matter where you are sitting, you can pull up approved 3D drawings, hit the green button and print.
While not naming a specific university, Perna said the Army is working with one that it believes has the answer to that need.
While Perna has a rough three-year timeline he’s aiming for in terms of developing processes and procedures related to additive manufacturing capability, he cautioned that the speed of execution “will be manifested by my ability to bring in this system that allows me to have all the drawings and then allows me to connect the user to the drawings both for execution of making a piece, but also financially. I’m not just going to make parts.”
The four-star also stressed that this effort is not meant to take over supply chains from industry. “I don’t want to take it over. I don’t want to replicate it. I want to be able to influence and react to the readiness drivers that are needed on the battlefield in a timely manner,” he said, “so if a ship goes down or something, I want to be able to replicate that capability and make the requirement occur.”
With that, Perna stressed, “I need to have government purpose rights to repair parts.” The days are over when industry can say it owns every piece of intellectual property, he said. “I just need the rights to produce the capabilities for the equipment that we bought. It’s for the execution of replacing these readiness drivers, not replacing the supply chain.”
Source : Jen Judson Link to Author