The next phase for the service in terms of additive manufacturing, is mainstreaming the process, which means transitioning from plastic parts to metal. “Plastic works really well, but we replace aircraft parts with a piece made out of plastic.
Services are pursuing conditioned-based maintenance as opposed to planned-depot maintenance, which involves maintenance based on schedules and timetables.
The new approach will seek to get out in front of maintenance, looking at available data to predict where there is going to be failure, and eliminating that before it comes to a head.
The military is using 3D printing, and while significant barriers stand in its way, 3D printing “is a natural fit” as the military branch works to upgrade its maintenance technologies. 3D printing is at a pivotal stage in development, so we want to be at the forefront of this advancement in technology.”
3D printing can be used to improve readiness, which is a fairly wide-ranging category that covers everything from infrastructure and repairs to logistics and sustainment. The overarching goal is to send units out with just the right amount of equipment to establish a mobile unit for on-demand 3D printing.
In a real-world example, the service had to replace load-bearing handles on C-5 aircraft for $1,600 each. The part, however, was unavailable, and Logistics HQ didn’t know when it would be able to get the part. Through 3D printing, the service was able to produce the part for $300 and didn’t have to wait around for it to be delivered.
As another example, we have been repairing parts for in cross-service projects where we printed things like impeller fans. A lot of the things we’ve been doing are just basic one-for-one replacement. “What can you do with additive for a part that’s traditionally manufactured?
A lot of that gets at sustainment, and that’s what we’re trying to stand up—give them the capabilities so they can print metal parts, especially if you want … long-term procurement for parts where you only need a couple, vendors are no longer in business and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to spend a lot of money to set up tooling. Can additive be used to supplement the sustainment process, where you can just print a few parts and save all the time it would take to find vendors or set up the tooling?”
Another example is a 3D printed 90° strain relief offset connector was designed and fabricated in the field to prevent cables from breaking when attached to a piece of equipment.
Additive manufacturing is very different from subtractive manufacturing, which means that critical training is involved. “That’s a huge undertaking. We need to not only train the people who are going to touch and run the machines, but train the troops and the engineers on the capabilities of and how to design for AM.
“You’ve got to train the Troops on the capabilities of the technology along with how to actually use the machine. Then there’s how to teach the design community themselves the benefits of additive so they can start designing for it.”
Outside of actually learning how to use the technology, the services are also working to develop new materials and design tools for 3D printing.
Near-term efforts are looking at readiness, and in research, one of the simpler things is to just design new materials that are easier to print with, more reliable to print with, the properties are well understood—that kind of thing as a substitute, sort of a more direct approach to support of existing parts, really, new design tools for additive.”
Services must determine the specific economics of adopting 3D printing. While cost is less of a factor when you’re up against a tight deadline, this reverses when manufacturing reproducibility and cost are more important in a project. Additional factors include how critical the need for the part is, how quickly developments are being made, what else depends on the particular project, and where exactly the money is being spent.
We can talk about material properties and print bed temperatures and print heads and all this kind of stuff, but the senior leadership is looking at, ‘So what? How does this technology improve readiness? How can I keep systems and Troops ready to go?’ And that’s what we’re learning.”
Services are mostly “focusing its efforts on its modernisation priorities,” and leaving further development up to industry. If our military wants to use 3D printing for real-world applications, this development needs to speed up – these parts must stand up under plenty of stress.
“It’s one thing to create decorative parts, but it’s something else if you’re trying to create a load bearing or actuating parts that could fail. The standardisation and making sure that we have metrology or the metrics to test and evaluate these parts is going to be quite critical, for 3D printing items to be actually deployable in the field. Because one thing that we don’t want is to have these parts … not work as expected.”
“Ultimately, the goal for us is to enable qualified components that are indistinguishable from those they replace. Remember, when you take a part out of a weapon system and replace it with an additive manufactured part, you’re putting Troops at risk if that part is not fully capable. So we have to be very sure that whatever we do, we understand the science, we understand the manufacturing, and we understand that we are delivering qualified parts for our warfighters.”
For example, we have been working to 3D print parts for the T700 motor, which powers both the Apache and Black Hawk helicopters. However, these motor parts are not in use, as they have not yet been tested and and qualified at Mil Standards. The project is “more of a knowledge transition” to show that it’s possible to 3D print the parts with laser powder bed fusion.
In order to qualify 3D printed parts for military use, the materials must first be qualified. “Then you have to qualify your machine and make sure it’s producing repeatable parts, and then qualify the process for the part that you’re building, because you’ll have likely different parameter sets for your different geometries for the different parts you’re going to build.
“It’s not like you can just press a button and go. There’s a lot of engineering involved on both sides of it. Even the design of your build-layout is going to involve some iteration of getting your layout just such that the part prints correctly.”
One solid application for 3D printing is tooling, as changes in this process don’t need any engineering changes. “You can get quick turnaround on tooling. “The design process takes place, but the manufacturing can take place in days instead of weeks…For prototyping or for mainstream manufacturing, we can have a 3D printed tool made and up and running in 24 hours.”
If applied correctly, 3D printing will allow Troops deployed all over the world to make almost anything they need in the field. “What missions can we solve? We’re finding all kinds of things. “Humvees are being dead-lined because they don’t have gas caps. Or the gas cap breaks. When they order it, they’ve got to sit there for 30 days or 45 days or however long it takes to get that through the supply system. “If we can produce it in a couple of hours, now we’ve got a truck that’s ready for use while we’re waiting for the supply system to catch up.”
One of the major advantages of 3D printing is in the ability to reduce part count. This advantage doesn’t get the respect it deserves. It is hardly mentioned in the media and its implications and advantages seem to not be understood.
By reducing part count, we mean that a complex thing such as a rocket engine consists of a 100 parts when made with conventional manufacturing. When we redesign that rocket engine for 3D printing we can then perhaps reduce the total number of parts to three.
How do we do that? In some cases, a very complex shape can only be made out of a lot of parts in conventional manufacturing. Think of the ducting used on aircraft. Crinkly complex winding pipes. How would you manufacture these kinds of things conventionally? Out of lots of smaller parts.
This complex geometry can be made out of one part through 3D printing. Another way to reduce part count is through integrating functionality. We can take a sprout, a connector and a valve and print all of these things in one go by designing a kind of mash-up sprout connector valve part. Or a wall of something could also be a nozzle and also be a heat sink at the same time. Parts can do double or triple duty. So when we get excited about 3D printing batteries and conductive materials, this is not just because its cool.
Importantly, it’s also not only so that we can then print the entire phone in one go. Crucially it will enable designers and engineers to think very differently about what a phone is and what happens when your battery can also be a housing that at the same time comes with holes for screws and places for chips.
This kind of thing may all of a sudden mean that through design for manufacturing we can come up with a completely different form factor phone or a completely different way of making phones or completely different economics of making phones. So, in this case, the reduction of part count through ever cascading new technologies will see continual impacts by 3D printing on assembly and manufacturing technologies in some industries.
Only those industries where low volume, customisation or low weight will rise to adopt 3D printing because for them the benefits will outweigh higher costs. Once they have all of the same geometries however with the same materials can also be industrialized. Many will ultimately look to part count reduction as an adoption logic for 3D printing.
Now people are still thinking conventionally in terms of housings and connectors. Your engineer will think in screws and things that cover as separate things. So once you see a product as a thing of screws, housings, motors and the like but sees it as a potentially fluid object then things will really change for 3D printing. Once the engineer notices that 60% of the parts are redundant, then everything will turn for us. Once you see that all the washers, nuts and bolts plus their holes are not needed while the form factor of the thing completely needs to be rethought then, we are going to be on a roll.
Its been frustrating trying to explain 3D printing for so many years and not having people get it. We are the new way to make all things better. If you had to make all of your letters using a stencil and I showed you that you could also write freehand, then you wouldn’t shrug and say “we’ll wait until the costs come down.
Why part count works and is working as a decisive argument is because the cost savings can be easily quantified. There are real tangible benefits to part count reduction that have wide-reaching implications.
Fewer parts can also mean less weight additionally you can, of course, save weight through design as well. This adds up in mitigating transit/storage risks. Reducing part count means fewer parts and also fewer parts to store throughout the lifetime of the product.
So some consumers are trying out spare parts now and then figuring out how to redesign for 3D printing later. They see that spare part storage and printing on demand can make sense especially in some high-end weapons systems because of the millions of parts total.
We’re talking about millions of parts some in transit, some waiting at a dock somewhere, some in a factory somewhere, some at further distribution waiting to go to the consumer, some waiting years to be used. Reducing these counts will have huge impacts on tied up spares in their supply chain.
Each spare part has tooling, molds, boxes, forms and many other components that support it. Reducing just a small number of parts can have a significant effect because of the many follow-on parts that are needed for this part.
Parts increase the upfront costs needed to get a new product, or a more original version of something started. More time and money is required to make a newer product with more parts. Reducing parts will tie up less capital and in and of itself make product development faster.
By integrating functionality radically different products can emerge to outcompete in a crowded space of products that all increasingly look the same and are made by the same people. By integrating functionality companies can use engineering and design to create competitive advantage in products that are far too similar.
By reducing part count, you have less assembly risk By reducing part count, there is less part risk overall because you eliminate fasteners, glues and separate steps that lead to bonding the part which could cause failures. Instead, you are concentrating your manufacturing risk on an automated process that potentially in the future may lead to you making that part in a completely automated way which will dramatically reduce your costs.
The more you do this, the more you can scale a modular manufacturing technology that can produce variable amounts of whatever you need whenever it is required. By reducing part count, you can radically reduce the capital tied up in your supply chain and product development process while becoming more agile in the design, development, and manufacturing of parts.
By not using the same Lego blocks as everyone else one can make more rapid and radical changes to designs and parts while also making standardised things that are highly customisable for niches.
In short, it is reducing part count that will be crucial to getting 3D printing adopted.
You can focus 100 percent of your attention on your core business functions and still keep a close connection to your supply chain by partnering with logistics providers to create a customised system designed to provide the logistics and supply chain services required by your organisation.
Successful supply chain and logistics execution is a series of structured and established tactical manoeuvres. A great deal of operational expertise is involved in forecasting product markets include engineering functions required to distribute finished products like replacement parts to end user in the field.
So, how do you know what logistics provider you will partner with to meet your requirements? Use the following checklist to make the best decision. Once you see the areas where you need the most help, you can start your search for the best providers.
1. Product activities include assembly/grouping operation status updates
2. Testing/Training of workers in enterprise resource planning settings
3. What is format of transferring specific product location information?
4. Product order schedule real-time tracking device trends
5. Integration/customisation capabilities meet customer demand
6. Multi-channel Order Management marketing platforms
7. Strong Inventory movement control capabilities
8. Location visibility feature network status capabilities
9. Do providers contribute necessary range of future services?
10. Are there partners who don’t supply services but you will need?
11. Ability to handle on-demand rush or emergency orders
12. What lead time processing from supplier to operation is necessary?
13. Who provides two-way access communication of information ?
14. What is the time frame for schedule confirm information provided?
15. Value-added enterprise structure– specialised equipment for your product
16. What market assessment information will they provide you?
17. Review and define terms used to describe market value
18. Conflict resolution: chain of command to solve structure problems
19. Do partners have same experience with product cycle as your company ?
20. Use of customer service techniques to provide productive feedback
21. Achieve expedited on time delivery to your customers
22. Timetables and deadlines for receiving and providing information
23. Timetables for receiving new merchandise adequate/flexible
24. Expected quantities of inbound/outbound merchandise processing
25. Expected number of orders and units picked daily/weekly/monthly
26. What is division of duties for accelerated routing and changes in backorders?
27. Visibility into invoicing/returns levels to gauge business impact
28. Meet quality control inspections of specification characteristics
29. Service Level Agreement with Key Performance Indicator experience
30. Types of contracts logistics provide required solutions?
31. Ability to utilise available negotiation skills/strategies?
32. Reliable and up to date price list validity customer service?
33. Receiving/Inspection and Dock-to-Stock, Warehouse Management
34. Cycle Counting inventory division capabilities and turn around time
35. Who is responsible for routing, packaging, and transit guidelines?
36. Who is responsible for charge-backs? Under what circumstances?
37. What enterprise risk mitigation is covered and under what circumstances?
38. Potential for revenue growth from reverse logistics programme
39. Create quantifiable standards and measurements of performance
40. Price structure easy to check /understand trade-offs of service option
41. Invoices formatted to specifications with proper backup formats
42. Comprehensive price quote. Include all possible services you may require
43. Is there evidence partners are reliable when operations are face paced?
44. Has expected commitment to customer service been demonstrated?
45. Do partners have experience, supply capacity and service you require?
46. Have you have determined partner potential of multiple logistics companies?
47. Have you established starting point for collaborate with potential logistic provider?
48. Choosing the right logistics provider with capacity for day-to-day operational change.
49. It is vital to take your time and set high standards for vetting and choosing the right vendor
50. Identify game-changing logistics partners who provide exceptional customer service