Autonomous Manufacturing & Babcock to 3D Print NATO Spare Part via UK’s Project TAMPA

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Autonomous Manufacturing (AMFG), a UK developer of manufacturing execution software (MES) for advanced production processes including 3D printing, announced that a consortium led by the company has won the Spiral 1 contract from Project TAMPA: a 3D printing accelerator program funded by the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MOD). Also included in the consortium is Babcock International, one of the UK’s largest defense firms.

The MOD launched Project TAMPA in fall, 2022, announcing it as a program that could last up to seven years, and which, as currently planned, will unfold in four contract spirals. The Spiral 1 contract awarded to the AMFG-led consortium will involve additive manufacturing (AM) of a “non-safety critical metallic” NATO stock number (NSN) spare part. The parts in the NSN (which stands for National Stock Number in the US) catalog include the full range of “standardized material items of supply”, for member states of NATO and the nations that procure military equipment from NATO member states.

AMFG’s digital catalog. Image courtesy of AMFG

In a press release about the awarding of Project TAMPA’s Spiral 1 contract, Col. Dan Anders-Brown, the head of AM for the UK Army’s Future Capabilities Group (FCG), commented, “From ensuring parts are much more readily available to Front Line Commands to reducing our overall global carbon emissions, [AM] offers many benefits now and in the future and we look forward to continuing this work with Defence Support and working closely with our industry partners to unlock the full potential and capability of this exciting technology.”

Paul Powell, Group Head of Innovation at Babcock International, said, “TAMPA is a brilliant opportunity to explore the digital thread within an MOD environment. Combining Babcock’s defence support experience with AMFG’s workflow expertise presents a real chance to achieve the end goals of the TAMPA framework, which is to prove the viability of providing a broad capability to address the significant threats to defence supply chains and defence operations presented by increasing obsolescence.”

Babcock’s advanced manufacturing lab at Plymouth Science Park. Image courtesy of Babcock

Earlier this year, Babcock announced that it was responsible for 3D printing the first metal parts used in active duty by the UK Army. In my post about that announcement, I suggested that Babcock was a logical candidate to receive Project TAMPA funds. The company’s broader significance to the UK defense sector means that its involvement in Project TAMPA can be expected to have a dual effect. By spurring more AM activity at Babcock itself, the Spiral 1 contract with AMFG should, in turn, boost the momentum for a greater AM effort across UK industry, as a whole.

Moreover, the fact that workflow software is central to the contract also signals the project’s potential to have a disproportionate effect on the UK’s 3D printing and advanced manufacturing ecosystems. Presumably, that was much the point: by linking up a company like Babcock to the US AM ecosystem via AMFG’s software, the UK can avoid having to go it alone on its path to creating domestic AM supply chains.

And, if that effort succeeds, a useful model will be in place that can be replicated with other NATO countries. Replicating such a model is, if anything, a more urgent objective for the US armed forces than for the rest of NATO. Its uniquely far-flung presence means that the US military can’t hope to effectively leverage its AM gains, unless equivalently advanced infrastructure exists domestically, in a sufficient number of other allied nations around the globe.

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