US Army Awards $13M to Concurrent Technologies for 3D Printed Combat Vehicle Lightweighting

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The US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) — Ground Vehicle Systems Center (GVSC) has awarded Concurrent Technologies Corporation (CTC) $13 million as part of a three-phase project surrounding R&D into lightweighting combat vehicles. CTC, a Pennsylvania-based, nonprofit applied sciences corporation, has competencies in a broad range of advanced manufacturing processes, and specializes in leveraging embedded processors to deliver smart manufacturing solutions.

The GVSC initiative involves R&D into the potential for friction stir welding (FSW) additive manufacturing (AM) to support the Army’s “Next Generation of Combat Vehicles”, with lightweight parts being of the utmost priority in achieving that objective. In addition to fuel-efficiency, that priority stems from “weapons upgrades” that have accumulated over the years to continuously add more weight to the Army’s typical ground vehicle load.

CTC is partnering on the contract with PAR Systems, “a producer/supplier of custom FSW equipment.” Work in this phase of the project aims to determine how to integrate artificial intelligence/machine learning controls with embedded processors in FSW machines, leading up to the final phase, in which CTC will install the in-development machine at its Johnstown, PA headquarters, where it will serve as a demonstrator.

Image courtesy of US Army

In a press release about the contract, the senior director of advanced engineering and manufacturing at CTC, Mike Pollock, said, “This project will enable us to grow our leadership role in FSW technology advancements and support future technology transition. In addition to FSW, we are utilizing our company’s expertise in material characterization and machine learning to bring this technology to fruition for the benefit of the US industrial base and ultimately implementing the solution for the benefit of the warfighter.”

The president and CEO of CTC, Edward J. Sheehan, Jr., said, “We are honored to continue this work, which will benefit our warfighters in a very direct way. Our engineering and machine learning experts are collaborating on this effort to make sure our military can fulfill their missions using the most optimized vehicles possible.”

Image courtesy of CTC

This project has many exciting angles, with the most exciting, perhaps, being that it serves as further confirmation of a trend I mentioned recently, the Army’s catchup to the Air Force and Navy in cultivation of its AM ecosystem. While FSW may be a relative newcomer to the AM industry, the technology could turn out to be the Army’s secret weapon in the long haul.

The most well-known example of FSW, of course, is “the world’s largest 3D printer,” at the Army’s Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois. But the faster that the quality of the data from that machine improves, the more feasible it will be to install versions of that machine elsewhere — and especially smaller versions — a development that is already in-progress.

This is why AI is so important to the development of FSW AM, in particular. Along those lines, the newness of FSW could quickly become just as much of an advantage as it is a weakness: compared to most other AM technologies, latest-generation ML is being built into the process essentially from the ground-up.

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