The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), a combat support agency within the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), recently announced that the organization is developing a set of common standards and methods to streamline 3D printing for the U.S. military. Patrick Kelleher, the executive director of operations and sustainment for DLA Logistics Operations, shared this information at the Military Additive Manufacturing [AM] Summit, in Tampa, Florida (Feb. 1-2).
As one of the DoD’s eight combat support agencies, the DLA aids U.S. military services in equipment procurement and delivery, as well as in disposal of surplus and unusable supplies. Additionally, the agency assists various other departments within the U.S. federal government in distributing humanitarian aid. Beyond defining a set of standards meant to accelerate the integration of AM into military supply chains, the DLA is also focused on developing ways for different divisions within DoD to securely share AM-related data with one another.
Such data primarily includes technical information provided by suppliers that print parts for US service branches, along with a comprehensive catalog of companies that have successfully delivered 3D printed parts and raw materials to DoD. The overall effort will strengthen and expand the Joint Additive Manufacturing Model Exchange (JAMMEX), a centralized portal for US military 3D printing that was launched in January, 2020.
Finally, the DLA is working on a program that will facilitate remote inspection for 3D printed parts, which, according to Kelleher, could reduce the time required for inspection by as much as 90 percent. This means that any lead-time reductions for military supplies that are achieved with AM can be further amplified, by simultaneously yielding gradual, reciprocal decreases in inspection time.
Although the U.S. military has been pouring greater sums into the AM industry for years, macroeconomic and political conditions across the planet suggest that there will be no slowdown, any time soon. In fact, even if recent calls by policymakers to trim the defense budget are unexpectedly successful, there’s still reason to believe that AM could inversely benefit: waste-reductions in legacy manufacturing can be significantly augmented by parallel improvements of AM infrastructure.
Moreover, any money from the defense budget that gets reallocated to other agencies of the U.S. government for advanced manufacturing will still require some degree of interagency cooperation with the military, since the vast majority of government workers with advanced manufacturing experience are soldiers. This sort of “Cross-Agency Priority” will be especially crucial for agencies like the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of Transportation (DOT), but DoD could reasonably be expected to be involved in more or less any government project that incorporates 3D printing.
Images courtesy of DLA
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