DARPA (that is, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) was founded in 1958 and maintains a mission to ‘prevent strategic surprise’ from interfering with the security of the US, as well as to maintain the ‘technological superiority of the US military.’ DARPA represents the Department of Defense’s ‘primary innovation engine’ and works hard to keep the US on top of its game. Scientific research and a whole lot of research and development are needed across the board in a world that’s growing more technologically advanced almost by the minute.
In 1982, Congress established the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program so small businesses could contribute. One stated goal of the SBIR Program is to “increase private sector commercialization of innovations derived from Federal R&D, thereby increasing competition, productivity, and economic growth.” DARPA participates in the SBIR Program to work alongside small businesses and recognize their contributions to national security.
Contracts to work in the SBIR Program are awarded in three highly competitive phases. In Phase I, a proposal is studied to determine whether it is feasible and whether it sufficiently solves a Federal government need; approximately 1/10 of proposals are awarded the Phase I level of participation. Phase II is further in-depth, representing a major R&D undertaking that ultimately delivers a viable prototype (defined as a technology, product, or service). Phase II contracts are awarded following a successful Phase I contract. Phase III contracts involve private sector funding to turn the prototype into a finished product or saleable service ready to enter the government or private market.
On November 3, Sigma Labs announced that they had been awarded a Phase II contract from Honeywell Aerospace toward a DARPA project. The Phase I stage of the contract was completed earlier this year. Work toward the Phase II project is set to begin in the 4th quarter 2014, running through the middle of 2016. Sigma Labs’ portion of the award is approximately half a million dollars.
The DARPA project is set to predict — accurately — the properties of metal pieces that are manufactured in an additive process. That is, metal components made via additive manufacturing requires an Integrated Computational Material Engineering (ICME) framework. Because 3D printing with metal materials is still in its infancy, accurate understandings of metals’ performance properties are not yet available. Sigma Labs hopes to accomplish a better, more standardized approach to metal 3D printing, which could ultimately benefit not just small businesses, but the safety of the entire country.
Sigma Labs is developing metal-based 3D printing processes through its B6 Sigma subsidiary. B6 Sigma operates using their In Process Quality Assurance (IPQA) methodology, which ensures that every step of every manufacturing process is held to high standards with real-time quality control. The company’s IPQA method eschews post-production quality checks, which can detect problems only when they are too late. The real-time, non-destructive quality checks will surely help the company in the pursuit of the DARPA goals. This is further evidenced by B6 Sigma’s stated goal to “bring new materials and process technologies to market for advanced applications in aerospace, defense, energy, and other areas.”
The work toward the DARPA goals has lit a fire in Sigma Labs.
“We are pleased to have been selected for this follow-on contract with Honeywell as part of a Phase II DARPA award,” said Mark Cola, President and Chief Executive Officer of Sigma Labs. “Having successfully completed the Phase I piece of the program earlier this year, we look forward to working with Honeywell and its team to further demonstrate our PrintRite3D technology for precise metal manufacturing applications. Through this award we will have additional opportunities to showcase our unique software and help develop a standardized, rapid-qualification approach to metal 3D printing, potentially leading to faster commercialization of our cutting-edge technology.”
What do you think of Sigma Labs’ Phase II DARPA award? Let us know your thoughts!