AMS 2024

US Air Force Funds Shipping Container 3D Printing Facilities Secured by Blockchain

Metal AM Markets
AMR Military

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Blockchain innovator SImple Blockchain Applications (SIMBA) has been awarded a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I grant by the U.S. Air Force Rapid Sustainment Office (AFRSO) to develop next-generation critical mission technology and digitally empowered supply chains. The solution is intended to give the Air Force the capabilities to manufacture, test and deploy sophisticated aircraft parts and other weaponry on-demand using advanced 3D printing supported and secured by blockchain. If successful, the Plymouth, Indiana-based business could be awarded up to $1 million in additional funding to develop further and commercialize the technology.

For the project, SIMBA teamed up with a California woman-owned startup called Steel Modular, known for turning underutilized shipping containers into customized buildings. The duo will seek to create a self-contained, mobile 3D manufacturing facility housed in a repurposed container. SIMBA said each 20- or 40-foot disposable receptacle would be equipped with all of the components and resources necessary for secure metal and fiber additive manufacturing (AM), final machining, an inspection of finished products, and communications. Moreover, the mobile 3D manufacturing units could be climate controlled to comfort and protect military personnel and equipment. Since the containers are designed to be transported virtually anywhere with their contents, they are ideal for AFRSO’s high-tech, battle-ready needs.

SIMBA secures US Air force grant to develop blockchain-supported 3D printing mobile units. Image courtesy of SIMBA.

According to SIMBA, the solution includes blockchain to secure conversations and information critical to manufacturing specific parts and will support the Air Force and Department of Defense (DoD)’s strategy to make engineering practices digital. The solution is expected to accelerate the AFRSO’s ability to produce tooling, fixtures, support equipment, and aircraft parts on forward-operating locations and bases worldwide.

The 90-day project dubbed “RAD2 CAM-MCB” was awarded on March 8, 2021. It will determine the feasibility of deploying the mobile, self-contained 3D printing facilities to austere locations such as battlefields to support the warfighter within a rapid, austere, and controlled supply chain environment and in terms of deployability, functionality, affordability, and eco-friendly design. The Air Force is looking to lean into commercial off-the-shelf technology already used in private sector maintenance and manufacturing organizations and build collaborations, stated the company.

SIMBA Co-founder and CEO Joel Neidig said the project’s ultimate goal is to leverage AM so the Air Force can design and produce parts in days rather than months, respond faster to combat equipment needs on bases and overseas battlefields. It will also help backfill parts for aging but still serviceable planes for which there are no commercially available replacement parts. He also revealed that the project would enable and safeguard the digital supply chain, backed by SIMBA’s blockchain technology, which ensures data integrity and protects against tampering intellectual property and communications. Sophisticated hackers are a genuine threat, he went on, but deploying SIMBA globally and on a distributed, decentralized basis “provides an unhackable barrier” and “protects supply chain governance.”

The serial entrepreneur leads a company that is gaining big since its debut in 2017. After emerging as a spin-off out decades-old manufacturing solution provider Indiana Technology and Manufacturing Companies (ITAMCO), SIMBA has helped develop a secure, unhackable messaging and transaction platform for the US military that keeps the Air Force ready for battle thanks to its blockchain innovations. In 2020, the startup beat 16 finalists, including Stratasys and Boeing, during the U.S. Air Force’s first-ever Advanced Manufacturing Olympics and won the gold medal, along with $100,000, and has ensured projects with some of the most renowned companies worldwide, including Microsoft, Dow, and Ernst & Young.

Steel Modular is turning underutilized shipping containers into customized buildings. Image courtesy of Steel Modular.

Considered a game-changing technology, blockchain solutions have proven ideal to mitigate current risk in supply chains by improving traceability, organization and assuring the provenance of parts. More commonly known as the core technology behind cryptocurrencies, blockchain for AM can lead to a more secure and reliable process. As the Air Force increasingly incorporates AM technologies into its part production and processes, there will be a growing demand to build a more secure and connected manufacturing infrastructure.

Servicing companies as a cloud-based, easy-to-use blockchain platform, SIMBA enables users across various skillsets to implement decentralized applications, or dapps, that allow secure, direct connections between users and providers, eliminating third parties. Once stored on blockchain, data can’t be changed or deleted, creating a trust factor not afforded by other data sharing and storage solutions. SIMBA’s platform is increasingly becoming the “go-to” solution for the DoD’s AM needs.

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