UK’s Ministry of Defence Launches Project TAMPA to Stimulate 3D Printing Applications for the Military

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Last month, the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MOD) announced the official launch of Project TAMPA, a potentially seven-year-long program to increase the amount of 3D printed parts purchased by the UK military. The MOD originally announced its plans to establish the program this past April.

Currently, the MOD estimates the project will cost £3-5 million, which these days seems to be the equivalent of what the Pentagon spends per new additive manufacturing (AM) application it acquires. However, in the agency’s contract notice for Project TAMPA, it is noted that the government retains the option to spend more in the program’s later years. In turn, the potential value of Project TAMPA could end up being substantially greater than the amount announced thus far.

Calibur3 IDEX metal printer, made by the UK’s Wayland Additive. Image courtesy of Wayland Additive

In the contract notice, it states, “…[AM] has the potential to address significant issues within Defence such as excessive lead times for Defence inventory and manufacture obsolete/obsolescent parts to improve platform availability. …[MOD] wishes to enter into a multi-supplier Framework Arrangement for accelerating the maturity of [AM] to better exploit the technology within the end-to-end support chain, deliver a more agile response to demand for parts, and begin to generate the inherent efficiencies that this technology promises.”

Soldiers using Markforged’s X7 FE printer, which is used by the UK military. Image courtesy of Markforged

Moreover, the MOD stipulates that it will only award contracts to suppliers that have existing relationships with the agency, and that it is expected that the funds awarded will be supplemental to investments in projects that the companies have already begun. Therefore, the pool of potential awardees is fairly limited.

The MOD will award contracts in a series of four “spirals”, each one constituting a mini-competition that aims to create a specific military solution with AM. According to the contract notice, the first competition will involve the printing of a “non-safety critical metallic” NATO stock number [NSN] spare part, “followed by a series of further spirals that will seek to incrementally address increasing degrees of complexity”. For instance Spiral 3 involves, “a non-safety critical metallic (or polymer) NSN, produced in a location remote from the Industrial base”.

As I’ve mentioned previously, there seems to be significant untapped potential for AM in the UK market, especially concerning metal AM. As unpopular and controversial as Brexit was, it nonetheless allows the nation greater supply-chain flexibility than it had as a member of the EU. Along those lines, Project TAMPA is likely to be a boon to foreign companies as well as domestic ones. Just to take one example, Markforged, based in Massachusetts, supplies its X7 Field Edition (FE) printer to the MOD via its UK division.

In terms of economic blocs, then, NATO will likely continue to prove to be the most important central organizing principle for western nations, as Project TAMPA bears out. Given the significance of military funding to AM, this will play an unmatched role in shaping AM-centered supply chains over the next decade.

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