ATI Wins Bechtel Contract to Build US Navy Metal 3D Printing Facility

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ATI Inc., the Dallas-based manufacturer of metal powders, announced that the company has won a contract from Bechtel Plant Machinery Inc. (BPMI) to support development of advanced manufacturing solutions for the US Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program. As part of its work on the contract, ATI will build an additive manufacturing (AM) facility in the Ft. Lauderdale, Florida area, which is expected to come online in the middle of 2024.

This is the second contract that BPMI, a subsidiary of Bechtel (the US’s second largest construction company), has awarded in 2023 for a metal AM facility in the Ft. Lauderdale area dedicated to the navy’s nuclear program. In March 2023, BPMI awarded a contract to Sintavia to build an AM facility that was slated to come online in Q2 of this year. It is not clear if the ATI facility is part of the same project, or simply a related one.

In any case, the contract reinforces southeastern Florida’s status as a metal AM hub, a state-of-affairs which should have long-term implications for the evolving dynamics of US supply chains. According to ATI, both the ATI Forged Products and ATI Specialty Materials divisions will work side-by-side in the new facility, which the company also notes is “designed for expansion”.

In a press release about the contract from BPMI to build a metal AM facility for the US Navy, Kim Fields, ATI’s president and chief operating officer, said, “With this facility, ATI will maximize its ability to deliver advanced additively manufactured materials and components by turning them into parts that further the defense industry. …Within one facility, we’re combining the latest additive and advanced manufacturing technologies and ATI’s novel powder alloys.”

Barb Staniscia, the president and general manager of BPMI, said, “[AM] offers tremendous advantages to our Program, including accelerating ship construction, improving operational readiness, reducing costs, and an increase in warfighting capability. Metal [AM] is driving necessary improvements in lead time, design, and performance for the US Navy.”

Nuclear-powered Virginia-class submarine. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

At least in terms of anything publicly known, the US Navy’s success with AM over the last couple of years has been one of the global economy’s biggest triumphs of innovation during that timeframe. While it is still too early to quantify any broader effects, no one should overlook the symbolic significance of the fact that there have now been 3D printers permanently installed on US Navy surface vessels and submarines for the better part of a year.

But also, in terms of quantifiable effects, those should certainly be expected, because the potential impact of possessing deployable floating factories certainly can’t have been lost on the Chinese government. In that sense, we are likely already seeing the effects in terms of all the examples of progress in metal AM subsequently announced by Chinese companies. And, we are likely to see more progress from both nations in metal AM before the year is even over, given the global tech war that has only just started ramping up.

This general dynamic is what the US military alludes to when it refers to China as “the pacing challenge”. The world’s two wealthiest nations are setting the pace for each other in terms of technological progress, which is in turn shaping the economic policies enacted by all of the planet’s many other governments. Concrete examples like this one help illustrate the general form that all those policies are collectively taking.

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