US Army Advanced Manufacturing Commercialization Center Set to Open in Detroit Suburbs

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On April 6, 2023, the US Army will open the Advanced Manufacturing Commercialization Center (AMCC) in Sterling Heights, MI, less than 20 miles from downtown Detroit. The new facility is a joint project between nonprofit SAE Government Technologies, of Troy, MI, and the Army’s Development Command Ground Vehicle Systems Center (DEVCOM GVSC) and Tank Automotive Command (TACOM), both located in Warren, MI.

Significantly, the AMCC will house the Jointless Hull subsection tool, which was designed alongside the full-size Jointless Hull stir friction additive manufacturing (AM) machine, the latter of which should be operational any day now at the Army’s Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois. A joint project between Ingersoll Rand and metal AM company MELD Manufacturing — essentially the only game in town so far when it comes to stir friction AM, at least in the US — the platform destined for Rock Island is often touted as “the world’s largest metal 3D printer”. The Jointless Hull subsection tool was specifically made to support the activity of the larger model at Rock Island.

Image courtesy of DEVCOM GVSC

In a press release about the upcoming opening of the AMCC in Sterling Heights, MI, Christopher Spangler, the GVSC Materials Division Advanced Manufacturing Branch Chief, explained, “There are a lot of big, heavy metal parts within the Army inventory that [AM] is not even an option to make simply because they don’t fit within the build envelop of the current machines available in industry. This new machine will provide Rock Island Arsenal with an additive and machining capability that doesn’t exist anywhere else to not only produce parts for the Army but also across the DOD.”

Brandon Pender, GVSC Associate Director for the Materials Division, added, “The Jointless Hull project ultimately aims to realize an overall improvement to the complete manufacturing process and supply chain for large metal subsystems with the potential of enabling additional advancements through the [AM] process combined with materials and design to improve performance.”

Image courtesy of Department of Defense

The Materials Division at DEVCOM GVSC was also responsible, earlier this month, for granting Wichita State University (WSU) a five-year, $100 million contract to R&D digital manufacturing for the army’s ground fleet. This suggests WSU could potentially use some of the funds to purchase its own Jointless Hull subsection tool. In any case, its R&D will certainly benefit from access to the one at the new AMCC.

The key to understanding how important to US industry are the many developments such as this one that have already been announced so far in 2023, lies in the first C in AMCC: commercialization. Military projects literally can’t afford to be solely military projects at this point, because the scale and pace of expansion necessary to “shore up the defense industrial base”, as they say, will require rapidly accelerating the incorporation of new private industry partners into the defense procurement supply chain.

Bearing that out, this is the second announcement related to a new military AM center in less than a month, with Bechtel Plant Machinery, Inc. and Sintavia announcing a joint venture to build a center in Florida for US Navy submarine production. That’s not to mention the dizzying array of other announcements related to AM for defense that have also been rolling out in a constant rhythm this year. That includes the announcement just a couple of days ago by Divergent, that the company had named former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, to its board.

This is all indicative of the fact that, for all the technologies comprising advanced manufacturing, and perhaps most of all for AM, commercialization is on its way, and is indeed already here. It may take some time to be noticeably reflected in the balance sheets of 3D printing companies, but the US military clearly considers the commercial health of the 3D printing sector to be vital to national security.

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