The Applied Science and Technology Research Organization, or ASTRO America, a non-profit, non-partisan Research Institute and Think Tank, has been chosen to manage a new US Army initiative – the Jointless Hull Project, to develop and deliver a hull-scale tool using metal additive manufacturing technology. The goal of the Jointless Hull Project is to improve production speeds, lower production costs, reduce vehicle weight, improve vehicle performance, and increase survivability.
“The mission is to develop a large-scale tool capable of producing single, jointless combat vehicle hulls at a near net size of 30ft x 20ft x 12 ft in size. Additive manufacturing at a massive scale holds the potential to transform the way vehicles are built for the military while reducing supply chain fragility.”– Larry (LJ) Holmes, Principal Investigator at ASTRO America
Need for a Jointless Hull Project?
Historically, vehicle hulls are made by forging and forming parts that are then welded together. This means that the hull has numerous joints. While such hulls aid manoeuvrability, they also serve as weak points. This is a critical area of concern for defence vehicles. According to an army estimate, during the Vietnam War, anti-personnel and anti-tank mines were responsible for 73 percent of all vehicle losses. It was also discovered that replenishing such underbody inventory quickly remains elusive.
Although monolithic hulls for combat vehicles have well-established advantages, particularly in survivability and weight savings, traditional manufacturing processes are not cost-effective or adaptable to full production, particularly when multiple vehicle platforms are involved.
Due to the recent advancements in manufacturing technology, engineers can now explore new design concepts, rapid implementation, and flexibility to accommodate multiple vehicle platforms.
Metal 3D Printing for the Jointless Hull Project
The Jointless Hull Project is being contracted through LIFT, the Detroit-based, Department of Defence-supported national manufacturing innovation institute, while the technical program is being directed by the Michigan-based US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Ground Vehicle Systems Center, Ground Vehicle System Center (DEVCOM GVSC). The Army’s Rock Island Arsenal – Joint Manufacturing Technology Center is also a key partner in this project and will eventually house the new additive manufacturing platform. ASTRO America has already begun the project with an Industry Day that included prospective machine vendors as well as leading vehicle builders.
ASTRO America is the prime contractor and will lead the team of subcontractors like Ingersoll Machine Tool, Siemens, and MELD Manufacturing to manufacture the hull-scale machine, which uses metal additive manufacturing technology. The machine is expected to have a massive build volume of 30 feet long, 20 feet wide and 12 feet high.
Aaron LaLonde, Additive Manufacturing SME, U.S. ARMY – DEVCOM GVSC , and the Army TPOC for the Jointless Hull Project commented, “Advanced manufacturing methods that are capable of enabling innovative part designs and concepts have tremendous value in achieving part, component, and ultimately vehicle concepts to provide warfighters and systems with leading performance advantages. This project will scale the benefits of metal additive manufacturing to a size range that will allow the benefits of the technology to be realised on larger system scale parts and enable next generation vehicle performance.”
This latest award demonstrates ASTRO America’s commitment to correcting broader market failures and delivering state-of-the-art solutions to end customers in order to quickly address warfighter needs.
“This is an ideal project for ASTRO America and its highly experienced team. This is not a research project for either hardware, software or materials. This is a direct implementation project where we scale existing, but advanced methodologies to the required hull-scale size. We will be working with equipment vendors as well as system integrators to deliver on this project.”– Jason Gorey, ASTRO America’s Executive Director
According to Nigel Francis, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director, LIFT, “As a national manufacturing innovation institute, we help advance technology from concept to use by the warfighter as quickly as possible. Developing the ‘jointless hull’ is also aligned with our mission of driving American manufacturing into the future by connecting materials to processes and to the systems involved.”
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