How the U.S. Military is building Supply Chain Resilience through 3D Printing Technology

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3D Printed Metal Bracket
Above: USAF Tech. Sgt. Jason Felts drills a hole in a new 3D printed metal bracket at LRAFB/Image Credit: U.S. Air Force – Airman 1st Class Jayden Ford

The effectiveness of a military’s supply chains, particularly for mission-critical components, is crucial to its success. The United States Military has recognised the importance of build supply chain resilience through 3D Printing. 3D printing is used by the U.S. Military today more as a component manufacturing technology, but this will change as the U.S Navy is setting a new precedent.

The primary concern of any military force is to ensure that supply chains run smoothly and efficiently. However, recent pandemic-related issues such as backlogs, materials stuck at ports, and chip shortages have disrupted production lines have plagued the United States’ military manufacturing partners.

The US Navy’s supply partners were supposed to deliver multiple shipments of critical submarine parts but were unable to do so. As a result of this supply chain disruption, the US Navy is connecting its manufacturing partners with metal 3D printing companies to assist them in increasing production and, ultimately, fulfilling their pending orders.

3D Printing in U.S. Defence

3D printing is not a new concept in the US defense establishment. It is widely used by forces such as the United States Army, Marine Corps, United States Navy, United States Air Force, and others. Last year, the Department of Defense (DoD) also unveiled its additive manufacturing strategy, which outlined five strategic goals for broadening the use of AM in the defense sector. One of its goals, among others, was to align AM activities across the DoD and with external partners.

However, even before the announcement of this AM strategy, the United States Defense Forces had been using 3D printing to build prototypes, produce spare parts, and develop innovative solutions for battlefield operations.

Some Defence 3D Printing Projects

construction 3D printer
Above: ICON 3D printed military barracks at Camp Swift Training Center/Image Source: ICON
  1. Wichita State University in Kansas, in collaboration with the United States Army, dismantled a Black Hawk helicopter piece by piece to 3D scan each component a few years ago. The detailed 3D digital models can now be instantly and securely sent to any military 3D printer anywhere in the world for 3D printing spare parts on the fly.
  2. ICON, a developer of advanced construction technologies, and the Texas Military Department collaborated in August last year to build 3D printed military barracks at Camp Swift Training Center in Bastrop that can house up to 72 soldiers and airmen.
  3. The United States Air Force awarded Essentium, a leading provider of industrial additive manufacturing solutions, a contract in October 2021 to drive the development and deployment of advanced additive manufacturing solutions for tooling, ground support, maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO), and flight-certified parts for military aircraft and ground vehicles.

In response to President Biden’s 2021 Executive Order on America’s Supply Chains, the Department of Defense released its assessment of defense critical supply chains last week. According to the report, the military should increase its use of 3D printing (also known as “additive manufacturing”) as a key focus area and strategic enabler for mission success.

Supply Chain Resilience through 3D Printing

The Department of Defence has openly accepted 3D printing as a new technology that can set them apart from its competitors. It believes that this will give them an advantage not only in developing innovative products. For achieving this, it is important to build supply chain resilience through 3D Printing and that can help in preventing supply chain disruptions on the battlefield.

“Additive manufacturing offers DoD unprecedented supply chain agility while enabling our developers to sustain technological dominance for our Warfighters.”

– Robert Gold, director of engineering enterprise at the Department of Defence

The development of defence suppliers is a critical aspect of this initiative. As a result of this, the US Military and its suppliers can now collaborate to build and test existing and new components.

“This plan will help Navy contractors – many of whom are the sole sources of components to the Navy – by removing pressure as they struggle to keep up with the current workload.”

– Matt Sermon, executive director of Program Executive Office Strategic Submarines

There are numerous parts and products that the US Military must ensure are available when and where they are required. From 3D printed Humvee door handles and rifle grips to PPE and specialised tools, the military’s use of 3D printing is vast and expanding, and it may be a universal roadmap for building supply chain resilience.

About Manufactur3D Magazine: Manufactur3D is an online magazine on 3D Printing. Visit our Global News page for more updates on Global 3D Printing News. To stay up-to-date about the latest happenings in the 3D printing world, like us on Facebook or follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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Manufactur3D is an Indian Online 3D Printing Media Platform that reports on the latest news, insights and analysis from the Indian and the Global 3D Printing Industry.
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