Through new strategies, policies and inter-departmental collaboration, the Defense Department is harnessing the potential of additive manufacturing — better known as three-dimensional printing — to help our warfighters maintain technological overmatch against our strategic competitors.
AM is a computer-controlled process that creates 3D objects by depositing materials, usually in layers. These materials include but are not limited to polymers and metals.
As cost decreases and AM technology advances, DOD is increasingly taking advantage of this technology to produce such things as spare parts for aircraft and weapons systems; tools; rapid prototyping for research, development and experimentation; and medical supplies, such as face shields for COVID-19 first responders.
AM technology benefits include the ability to make parts with innovative designs that are lighter and perform more efficiently than parts manufactured by traditional methods like lathes, mills, welding and casting, explained Robert Gold, director of the Technology and Manufacturing Industrial Base Office in the office of the Undersecretary for Research and Engineering.
Currently, the military services, the Defense Logistics Agency, and even combatant commands in the field use AM processes, Gold noted.
"What we're trying to do with this highly flexible technology is to align activities across our enterprise, so that there is a sense of harmony and so that our processes work together and we can exchange lessons learned," he said.
In order to do that, DOD published the Department of Defense Additive Manufacturing Strategy in January 2021. The strategy sets a common AM vision and lays out five strategic AM goals. In June 2021, the Department published DOD Instruction 5000.93, Use of Additive Manufacturing in the DOD. The instruction establishes overall AM policy, roles and responsibilities across the Department, and provides overarching AM guidance.
As a follow-on to those documents, DOD is now working with the military services and OSD agencies to develop AM implementation plans and detailed technical guidance, Gold said.
DOD formed a joint steering committee in 2021 to support the publication of an AM guidebook in 2022, Gold added.
"As with any other guidance or policy document, we will continue to mature it as technology itself matures, and DOD will continue to expand the use of this knowledge in conjunction with our industry partners. And, we'll continue to work with the services and collaborative bodies to close gaps, minimize risks in technology adoption and accelerate additive manufacturing use across the department," he stated.
Tracy Frost, director of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Manufacturing Technology Program in the office of the Undersecretary for Research and Engineering, elaborated further on DOD's five AM goals, as described in the DOD AM strategy:
Integrate AM into DOD and the organic and commercial industrial bases.
Align, promote and advance AM activities across the department and with federal agencies, such as the Federal Aviation Administration.
Collaborate with industry and academia to establish a public-private partnership with America Makes, which aims to advance and promote America's global manufacturing competitiveness in AM and other areas.
Expand proficiency in the DOD workforce through quality training and sharing best practices.
Ensure cybersecurity of the AM workflow within the Department as well as the supply chain.
She noted that the Joint Additive Manufacturing Working Group is working across DOD's acquisition and sustainment and research and engineering communities to determine where DOD can best implement AM policies, and identify key personnel who will assist with that implementation. The JAMWG is made up of representatives from each of the military services and key defense agencies that have AM equities.
At the DOD senior leadership level, the Joint Defense Manufacturing Council is providing oversight of AM implementation department wide, she added.
"Close collaboration between OSD ManTech and our military services and OSD agencies have allowed us to fully capture AM's potential for our warfighters. With this AM strategy and instruction now in place, we have a firm way ahead for fully integrating AM use in DOD," Frost said.
Department of Defense Additive Manufacturing Strategy
Use of Additive Manufacturing in the DOD