Defense Appropriations Bill Secures Millions for 3D Printing


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The House Appropriations Committee approved a $706 billion defense budget for the fiscal year 2022, which includes $31.5 million towards additive manufacturing (AM) initiatives in Ohio and at least $25 million for 3D printing projects at the Rock Island Arsenal’s Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center (JMTC). For years, the U.S. military and its defense industrial base have incorporated AM technologies in research facilities nationwide, and the new bill approved on July 13, 2021 will ensure that several actions continue to be funded.

The vice-chair of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, said he managed to secure $100 million in federal funding for research and development capabilities that could benefit northeast Ohio businesses and universities. Ryan said the funding would go towards additive manufacturing, hypersonics, advanced industrial coatings, renewable energy technologies, and other programs to improve the safety and lethality of the military.

Ohio will receive $25.5 million for research and development of large-scale AM development, training programs, and supply chains, and $6 million to assist tool and die makers as they transition to 3D printed molds to drive wider adoption of Industry 4.0 technology in the defense supply chain.

Congressman Tim Ryan with America Makes launch AM program for the military in Ohio. Image courtesy of Jeremy Lydic/The Business Journal.

“This bill not only ensures our servicemembers have the resources they need to protect us abroad, but it also takes a big step forward as we build the economy of the future right here in the United States. This critical funding will help us maintain our competitive edge in research and development and grow local jobs,” said Ryan. “Additionally, this bill goes a long way to countering both Russia and China, which have proven time after time that they are bad actors on the global stage. I’ve always been a champion of a strong national defense, and that begins with the resources we invest here at home.”

Representing Ohio’s 13th district, Ryan has been a prominent advocate of 3D printing initiatives in his home state for almost a decade. In 2014 he secured $10 million in funding to create an additive manufacturing innovation research program based at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton. The initiative helped equip the U.S. Air Force with technology and expertise for using 3D printing and other emerging manufacturing techniques to fabricate low-volume replacement parts for weapons systems at lower costs than traditional defense procurement processes.

Ohio is a leader in AM, with colleges like Youngstown State University and the University of Dayton Research Institute already working together to increase AM use in the military. Furthermore, Northeast Ohio is also home to America Makes, the national accelerator for AM technology research and innovation, as well as a burgeoning 3D printing business cluster that has thrived to establish the region as a key manufacturing hub. The latest funding announcement will boost AM in the region.

Barrett Craps, additive manufacturing specialist at Rock Island Arsenal – Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center, Advanced and Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence, brushes powder off completed ventilator housing parts. Image courtesy of Debralee Best/RIA-JMTC.

Aside from Ryan, we also learned that Illinois Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, who is also on the defense subcommittee, announced a total of $58 million had been included in the bill to bolster manufacturing at Illinois’ Rock Island Arsenal’s JMTC. The news, reported by Quad-City Times, deconstructs how the funds will be distributed at the center. Basically, $25 million will go to soft recoil artillery systems, used in U.S. Army Humvees; $10 million for Expeditionary Additive Construction—an initiative critical to the Arsenal’s Center of Excellence—and $15 million to continue a program at the Arsenal focused on large-scale additive manufacturing prototyping of components.

This last initiative, known as the “Jointless Hull Project,” kicked off in April 2021 at Rock Island Arsenal with an ambitious goal of developing a 3D metal printer so large that it can create a military truck exterior in one giant piece. The machine is expected to have the capability of a metal print size of 30 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 12 feet high, and will print jointless hulls—which is essentially a chassis or underside—for the Next Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV), a series of tanks and other armored vehicles that prioritize rapid development. In fact, by manufacturing parts for combat vehicles without joints, the project is considered one of the first initiatives striving to help the Army take control of its own manufacturing, leading to more efficient production while contributing to the longevity of the carriers.

Rock Island Arsenal is the largest government-owned weapons manufacturing facility in the United States and is home to the JMTC, a heavy-metal manufacturer specializing in artillery, weapon components, armor, and mobile maintenance systems. In 2018, the Army designated the JMTC as the Army’s Advanced and Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence. Set on driving the digital future of manufacturing within the Army, the AM center has the capabilities to print in multiple polymers, metals, sand, and wax, and to expand to include new capabilities, partnerships, certification and qualification of equipment, and more.

“The Rock Island Arsenal and Air National Guard’s 182nd Airlift Wing play key roles in our nation’s defense and possess unique capabilities to support the mission readiness of our military. These critical funding bills invest in their skills and expertise to ensure our nation’s defense technologies are state-of-the-art and our service members are well-equipped to carry out their duties. I’ll continue to be a strong voice for our men and women in uniform and the world-class workforce behind them that help drive our local economy,” said Bustos, who has been the representative for Illinois’s 17th congressional district since 2013 and will be retiring from Congress after this term.

For years, additive manufacturing has proven its potential in the military, even with prototype 3D printers used to provide on-site capabilities for field missions. From advantages in the spare parts supply chain to deploying AM systems at the front of military logistics, the military expects the technology will challenge the traditional speed and manufacturing costs for tactical advantage. However, with so many other priorities, including a significant demand for additive technologies in the medical space and an urgent need to counter the negative environmental effects of traditional manufacturing and transportation infrastructures, experts and the public still question whether the defense sector warrants record spending. Earlier this year, highlighted that “for 10 straight years, the U.S. defense budget has increased,” and the fiscal year 2022 is no different. Although Congress acknowledged this was a “modest” increment, in line with President Joe Biden’s budget request, the defense bill saw an increase of $10 billion year-over-year, arguing the need to counter rising global threats, particularly from China and Russia.

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