The US Air Force (USAF) has awarded 3D Systems, the additive manufacturing (AM) pioneer based in Rock Hill, South Carolina, a cost-plus-fixed-fee contract worth $10,758,261, for a “Large-format metal 3D printer Advanced Technology Demonstrator.” The awarding agency for the contract was Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), headquartered at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (WPAFB) in Ohio.
According to the DoD website, the funding “supports the development of large-scale hypersonic relevant” metal 3D printing capabilities. Work on the project will be done at Rock Hill and in San Diego, and is expected to be done by the end of September 2025.
In addition to having been a recipient of USAF funding for years, 3D Systems also received a $15 million contract in 2019 from the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) to develop “the world’s largest” metal 3D printer. That nine-laser platform was the earliest of three such projects that the US military has announced since then, with the other two being a twelve-laser platform made for the USAF by Nikon SLM Solutions, and a solid-state metal AM platform made for the Army by Ingersoll Rand Machine Tool and a number of other partners, including MELD Manufacturing.
The most visible industry news involving 3D Systems lately have made it seem like things must be very challenging for the company right now. Nonetheless, at the same time, a contract like this illustrates the unique value inherent in being one of the most experienced AM companies on the planet at a time when the rest of the world outside the AM sector is starting to pay attention. The same can be said about a fairly under-the-radar story about big progress being made on oil parts certification by National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Company (NAMI), a joint venture between 3D Systems and Dussur, a Saudi Arabian government investment fund.
As for the USAF, one of the things I always think of whenever 3D Systems comes up is the fact that the company is headquartered almost equidistantly closely to two of the places (North Charleston and Greenville) where the nation’s two largest aerospace and defense contractors (Boeing and Lockheed Martin) produce two of the US’s most expensive civilian and military aircrafts. 3D Systems has worked with both companies for years, as well as Airbus. Also, Dr. John Tracy, the former CTO of Boeing, is on 3D Systems’ board.
The military typically works with the same companies that it’s used to working with whenever possible. There’s every reason, then, to think 3D Systems would be as big a beneficiary as any other company, of a future ramp up of the US military’s spending on AM. This should be expected especially considering that the AM Forward companies, which include Lockheed and Boeing, are likely to be at the forefront of any such funding increase.
Images courtesy of 3D Systems
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