America Makes and AFRL Award Million Dollar Contracts to 3D Systems for Aerospace Research Projects

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The Air Force Research Laboratory hardly lacks for new and innovative ideas and the Air Force has a long history of embracing new technologies like stealth and now, additive manufacturing.

The AFRL is operated by the United States Air Force Materiel Command, and it controls the entire Air Force science and technology research budget. That budget is considerable; it was in fact $2.4 billion in 2006, the last year for which budget data is available.

Nondestructive inspection: Finding the cracksInitially organized at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio in 1997, the AFRL was a consolidation effort aimed at pulling four Air Force laboratory facilities together; Wright, Phillips, Rome, and Armstrong along with the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. Among seven “directorates,” the AFRL specializes in performing experiments in collaboration with university and contractor researchers.  The work that has emerged from the organization have been among the most technically advanced aerospace projects in history; the X-37, X-40, X-53, HTV-3X, the Advanced Tactical Laser and the Tactical Satellite Program are all on that list.

Boeing_X-37B_inside_payload_fairing_before_launch

Boeing X-37

A pair of research contracts worth over $1 million dollars have been awarded to develop advanced aerospace and defense 3D printing manufacturing capabilities by two of the major players in the business, America Makes (the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute) and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).

3D Systems was named as the winner of the contracts, and the award came as a result of the company’s defense and aerospace manufacturing track record. The contracts center on 3DS’ proprietary Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) and Direct Metal 3D Printing (DMP) technologies.

“The collaborative – and forward looking – initiative of America Makes members is driving extraordinary strides in 3D printing-centric advanced manufacturing for this important industry,” says Ralph Resnick, the founding director and executive director of America Makes. “America Makes is grateful for the support and funding from AFRL to enable important research like this.”

The contracts are aimed at developing a precision, closed loop and advanced manufacturing and monitoring platform.

The first of the contracts will be led by 3DS and involves a partnership with the University of Delaware’s Center for Composite Manufacturing (UDCCM), Sandia National Laboratory (SNL) and Lockheed Martin Corporation (LMCO). It’s designed to integrate what the company calls “predictive technologies” using SLS 3D printers while dynamically monitoring parts at the layer level during the manufacturing process.

The second contract, which will be completed in collaboration with the Applied Research Laboratory of Pennsylvania State University, Honeywell International and Northrop Grumman Corporation, relates to the Direct Metal 3D printing process and will aid aerospace and defense manufacturers in gaining control of every aspect of the direct metal manufacturing process at the layer level.

“These important research projects will position leading industry manufacturers to 3D print high-performance precision parts at convincing scale with enhanced functionality,” said Neal Orringer, the Vice President of Alliances and Partnerships for 3DS. “3D Systems pioneered the use of advanced manufacturing for aerospace and defense applications and is proud to work with such esteemed partners to further advance these technologies and meet and exceed the future demands of the Air Force.”

Both projects are set to get underway early this year.  What are your thoughts on this news? Let us know in the America Makes and AFRL Contracts forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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