Leaders have sketched out a variety of potential uses for 3D printing for the military.
These range from intelligence to communications, and even to terraforming the battlefield, along with a few other future applications for the military force of tomorrow.
New threats demand logistics command-and-control capabilities that emphasise speed and agility. Agile manufacturing technologies, such as additive manufacturing, enable speed and agility. These technologies support Future Operating Concept by providing DoD with competitive edge against our adversaries through a smaller deployed footprint, more agile/efficient maintenance and modification, and faster supply-chain resourcing.
While additive manufacturing presents itself as a viable solution to rising costs associated with diminishing manufacturing sources, the process requires a rapid reverse-engineering capability and a workforce that understands how to leverage it in order to provide a responsive, resilient parts supply chain.
Leveraging new manufacturing technologies, such as additive manufacturing, results in a more agile and efficient logistics supply chain that can quickly deliver the right part on demand, but it also induces risk to the war fighter as we strive to secure our gains.
In terms of specific initiatives to improve service-wide logistics, additive manufacturing is playing a large role. DoD has been pursing this for some years and still has work to do, Advancements in 3D printing allow the force to not worry about the supplying and ordering of parts cutting out the supply chain and reducing timelines for making parts.
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 don’t want to replace all aircraft parts with a piece made out of plastic.
While the Defense Department is interested in additive manufacturing, particularly downrange in operational scenarios where certain items might be harder to acquire, more work needs to be done by industry to certify 3D printed parts by rigorous test/evaluation criteria to prove parts can stand up to the stresses of military use.
Suppliers are developing “hybrid” applications, where 3D printing and traditional manufacturing techniques like forging are both used to make a qualified part. This technique is attractive for both the commercial and defense aerospace markets that need qualified parts but want to reap the benefits of 3D printing.
It’s hardly a new technology at this point, but two things have changed for how DoD looks at the potential of 3D printing. The first is that the technology has become more widespread and adopted across the Pentagon. Where even a few years ago there was resistance to the idea a 3D printed part could be as reliable as a classically forged piece, there is now acceptance that parts printed via additive manufacturing can become secure and stable as long as test/evaluation steps are met.
Subassemblies used to require multiple parts can be combined into a single component. You can customise everything you make to suit individual customer preferences. With all the recent innovations in the additive manufacturing industries, now is the time to consider additive as a viable alternative to traditional manufacturing approaches and how to best take advantage of the design freedom it offers.
When you set out to design products, you typically have to design around the manufacturing process, which results in additional costs, time, or even material. Imagine being able to fully combine what was previously a set of subassemblies into one manufacturable part.
You have likely had to overdesign certain parts to withstand common manufacturing processes creating a dilemma that additive manufacturing can help you get around. When you design with additive manufacturing in mind, you can forget about designing for anything other than functionality. Looking deeper into this, you can save time in the design process while also saving your client money in manufacturing costs relative to design complexity.
With 3D printing, you can enter a world you previously thought impossible – releasing your full problem-solving potential. If you want to make internal voids or complex lattice structures, there’s a form of additive manufacturing that can make it happen. The freedom and potential you can have in your future designs are immense if you cast off all design limitations. The path for design without limitations can be paved with 3D printing, although it can have some material and production limitations.
You may want to focus on improving the design and functionality of a part, but given time constraints and the need of Design for manufacturability, you may not get a chance. Eliminating Design for manufacturability in a project allows you to focus your energy into actually improving your designs, rather than hassling with manufacturing.
While focusing on manufacturability may decrease cost, you can significantly increase value for the client by focusing on improving design functionality. Compromising on design just to make a product manufacturable hurts both the engineer and the integrity of the end product.
Perhaps the key aspect of additive manufacturing and what makes it the perfect fit for your needs is its ability to produce fully functional products without manufacturing setbacks. 3D printing overcomes the drawbacks of Design for manufacturability and pushes you fully into designing for functionality. There are obviously material limitations, but where it’s applicable, it can help out in your design process significantly.
Since you have more time to focus on design and functionality with additive manufacturing , there is a whole new array of opportunities that have never existed before. If you want to significantly improve function, you now have options.
By using computer assisted 3D printing tech, you can automatically pinpoint areas where material is unnecessary, and either remove it altogether or easily replace it with a complex lattice structure. Additive manufacturing isn’t just about increasing the time you can spend on design, it’s about being able to manufacture beyond what you can currently easily design. It creates true design freedom.
You can virtually eliminate the need for subassemblies with 3D printing tech. You have the capability to consolidate all of your parts into one design and one production batch. Other than decreasing design time, you can increase your material strength and decrease component fatigue all through additive manufacturing consolidation.
Consolidation is one of the key areas you can focus on to reduce manufacturing costs, part complexity and even reduce failure points. When you combine all needed functionality into one easy-to-manufacture solid component, nearly all of your design criteria are optimised.
You can only customise a part up to the extent that your manufacturing process allows. There’s a gate that gets unlocked by additive manufacturing, which allows you to fully customise your parts.
If you’re an engineer, your head might start hurting a little when you hear the phrase “customer preference.” Customers can be some of the most demanding people you will work with, but after all, that’s where your paycheck comes from. Currently, when a customer comes to you with certain preferences, you feel additional pressure from what is capable of being machined or forged.
Additive manufacturing solves this, allowing you can start focusing solely on making the customer happy and designing a good part. You can optimise your components however you want, and create the part exactly to the functionality the customer wants.
Computer assisted design forms the basis of most engineering professions, and it is perhaps the key aspect of your everyday job. Whatever design tools you use, there is one out there that is optimised and perfected for every form of additive manufacturing. When designing a very complex part, you may struggle with how to optimise your Computer assisted design tools to create such designs.
Many programs have become tailored or are directly compatible with additive techniques like laser sintering and 3D printing. This allows you to design your part in Computer assisted design like anytime else, then simply export your design to manufacturing. The result is both instant and perfect.
When a component is topologically optimised, it ends up looking far more organic than would be easily-designed in many Computer assisted design software. With the advancements in organic Computer assisted design abilities, you can actually use natural flowing structure for functionality rather than simply how attractive the part is.
You can test your Computer assisted designs and optimise them for handling actual stress and strain that are key components to test/evaluation phase of the project. The process as a whole ensures your parts are strong, but removes virtually every bit of unneeded material, saving both you and the client a lot of money in possible excess material costs.
Structures within the same external dimensions of a part end up becoming organic flowing supports instead of geometrical shapes like commonly seen in traditional designs. This technique is unique to additive manufacturing, and it allows you to design for real-world stress conditions. It is a pain to design using organic structures, as we all know. The key is to understand that advances in Computer
As engineers, we constantly try to mimic and recreate real-word examples of design. Generative design is exactly that, and through additive manufacturing, it can become a relatively easy reality. There are many generative design programs where engineers can input constraints and Computer assisted design will develop organic and perfected structure.
Generative Computer assisted design tech iterates each design automatically until the generated structure is organically perfect for your design needs. It does the work that used to take days or weeks of test/evaluation in just a few minutes.
By saving time and money, boosting creativity, and integrating beautiful geometry, generative design may be exactly what you need to impress your boss. You now have the ability to do weeks’ worth of intensive engineering in no time, which is something to consider when weighing design options.
The drive to push 3D printing into the field is getting a boost from an unexpected source — artificial intelligence that can monitor robots and teach them how to do a better job.
One thing about aircraft—especially ones that fly from aircraft carriers where they are battered by saltwater and tough deck landings is that they need lots of spare parts that are not always on hand.
Instead of flying in new parts, future Navy ships may be able to make new ones to order. Picture an intelligent, laser-wielding robot that can assess the damage and 3D print required titanium alloy parts from an onboard supply of metallic dust.
This is one glimpse of the future proposed by the Office of Naval Research which awarded a contract to create a new generation of super-smart 3D printers. The printers would not only make parts on order wherever they are needed, but can observe, learn and make decisions by themselves.”
The team is starting with a common titanium alloy used in aerospace. If the project succeeds, it could demonstrate how artificial intelligence could change everything you know about manufacturing.
It’s easy to see how manufacturing new parts on the spot could change the game for the. Navy. But there’s a problem uncovered with 3D printing test/evaluation that limits its use with machines that endure extreme stress like aircraft,
Consider the materials themselves. Aerospace-grade metals, including several recipes of titanium alloy, are supplied by foundries and have well-known characteristics. This raw metal comes with guaranteed strength, porosity, and thermal tolerance characteristics.
Not so with 3D printed metal, which is made layer-by-layer on the spot. What engineers call the microstructure of the metal, meaning the size, shape, and orientation of the grains, for example, is not guaranteed from a 3D printed metal part. That piece could look identical to a traditionally manufactured one but perform differently.
“With traditional, subtractive manufacturing you have the same properties in the final part. “But with additive manufacturing the material and mechanical properties are not as well understood.”
But Navy has a plan to outfit the 3D printing robot arms with commercial sensors, hoping to create a database that ties 3D printing processes and conditions with the resulting microstructure with predictive models that will enable 3D printing machines to create parts with foundry consistency, but from anywhere. “We have to build quality into the part.
This is where artificial intelligence comes into play. Machine learning tech allow these 3D printers make adjustments on their own to match the material qualities the military is looking for.
It’s manufacturing by wire: Simply provide the shape and needed performance properties of the metal, and the 3D printer will take it from there. In other words, the printers will train themselves to make decisions on how to build things.
“When you can trust a robotic system to make a quality part, that opens the door to who can build usable parts and where you build them. A fleet of future Navy ships could learn from each other’s experience by feeding the data from each robot back to a central station “The project with is at the inception of this.”
Artificial Intelligence 3D printers open up new ways of building things, saving money on launch costs and nearly impossible quality control.
“It could enable on-site manufacturing, “Think about the freedom additive manufacturing might enable when you can trust the certification of material properties enabled by the following system test/evaluation process:
1. Effective systems must be suitable
2. Suitability issues with the highest risk must be identified
3. The operation scenario drives suitability demands
4. Terminology must be consistent
5. There are always limitations to operational testing
6. Operational suitability applies to each level of support
7. Operational suitability has many dimensions
8. Availability is critical characteristic must be considered in early planning process
9. System availability is difficult to measure during short operational testing periods
10. Operational test planning must address methods of measuring times for evaluation period
11. System standby time may be important
12. Realistic logistics support must be objective in planning for operational testing
13. Reliability parameters must be defined early in programme
14. System operating modes can drive reliability
15. Firm reliability requirements are essential
16. Reliability measurements can require lengthy testing periods
17. Assumptions are made in reliability test planning
18. Early operational testing may give first realistic view of system reliability
19. Reliability measurements can have statistical confidence calculations
20. Computer program reliability is always an issue
21. Reliability growth is usually important factor
22. Maintainability measurements requires reasonable number of maintenance events
23. Maintainability demonstrations can be used in operational testing if realistic
24. Built-in test equipment & diagnostic systems must be tested record false alarm rates
25. Routine scheduled or preventative maintenance must be examined during operational testing
26. Time for off-equipment repairs can be significant
27. Unique maintainability characteristics must be identified an included in operational testing
28. Supporting/companion systems must be identified in early versions of test/evaluation plans
29. Consideration of Supporting/companion systems must address other systems under development
30. Maturity of Supporting/companion systems must be understood
31. Determination of adequate suitability depends on performance of support systems
32. Interoperability problems may cause system limitations
33. Interoperability must be addressed in operational testing prior to planning
34. Developmental testing results may help focus planning
35. Early operational testing may indicate unforeseen compatibility problems
36. Nominal operations may not expose incompatibilities
37. Operational testing tech must address needs for special resources/systems requirements impact compatibility problems
38. Compatibility of procedures can be factor in system performance
39. Early integrated logistics support planning for critical systems must be assessed
40. Part of logistics supportability evaluation includes system performance
41. Logistics support can provide basis to assess planned services
42. Test planning must address support for items under test
43. Operational test metrics should be compared to logistics support planning factors
44. Supportability of tech application must be considered
45. Supply support during operational testing may be unrealistic
46. Unique transportability requirements must be identified
47. Transportability of system must be verified as part of operational testing
48. All projected areas of operation must be considered in transportability assessment
49. Transportability must include movement of the system into combat locations
50. Testing of systems after transport can be critical for some systems
51. Documentation must be available for operational test phase
52. Documentation may not be available for operational testing schedule
53. Assessment of Documentation may be in a separate test phase
54. Only a sample of the operational maintenance and support tasks may be addressed
55. Support Task documentation may be occurring in operational testing
56. Manpower supportability includes observation of operating crew
57. Manpower deficiencies may reside in other suitability areas
58. Skill levels and numbers may be hard to evaluate
59. Proper manning levels for systems are critical for efficient operations
60. Operational testing experience can be used to modify training requirements
61. Operational test planning must address when the training programme will be available
62. Inter-relationship between training, documentation and personnel factors must be recognised during operational test planning
63. Training and operational testing tasks must be correlated
64. Demanding tasks that caused workforce problems must be identified
65. Usage parameters must be fully defined
66. Usage rates should be developed with new system capabilities taken into account
67. Operating tempo during operational testing must be developed from planned usage rates
68. Operational testing may be incapable of directly demonstrating surge usage rates
69. Some evaluation of system capability to perform must be made at planned surge usage rates
70. Planning for modeling and simulation must be evaluated for potential credibility of results
71. Detailed descriptions of planned operating and support scenarios are essential
72. Latest programme information must be incorporated into support activities
73. Defined plans for the use of support must be presented in test/evaluation plans
74. Test/evaluation documentation must include model rationale
75. Test/evaluation models must be planned for suitability assessments
76. Approach to system diagnostics should be included in early system planning
77. Firm diagnostic requirements must be established early
78. Diagnostic shortfalls must be evaluated for total impact on system and support resources
79. Diagnostic shortfalls may be obscured by activities in other suitability areas
80. Indications of poor on-board diagnostic systems performance early in programme must be followed closely
81. Lack of diagnostics performance can lead to major suitability problems
82. Common problem with diagnostics is immaturity at early stages of operational testing
83. Automated diagnostics capability of system usually improves as system design matures
84. Poor diagnostics performance can have serious effects on system suitability
85. Operational scenarios must always be quantified and understood
86. System requirement documents should include assessment of operating scenario
87. Limitations to system operation and/or maintenance should be projected prior to operational testing
88. Evaluate how workforce operating/maintaining system will be affected by operating scenario
89. Systems with on-board sensors can have limited performance in some operating scenarios
90. Accurate operational scenario conditions at operational testing sites are usually limited
91. Operational testing is usually not performed outside system intended operating scenario boundaries
92. Operational testing may determine additional conditions limiting operational scenarios
93. Complimentary systems and unusual conditions must be included in assessment
94. Application documentation can be key to effective support
95. Maintainability of application depends on design and arrangement
96. Interface application issues present can be critical to system operation
97. Ability to maintain/modify application depends on presence of adequate support resources
98. Maturity of application can be evaluated by examining status errors
99. Faults found in status of individual corrective actions are important
100. Application maturity depends on testing exposure