The USA’s Applied Science & Technology Research Organization, or ASTRO America, a nonprofit organisation that advances defence R&D, has been selected to manage a new US Army initiative to develop and deliver a hull-scale tool using metal Additive Manufacturing. Known as the ‘Jointless Hull Project’, the initiative aims to provide improved production speeds, reduced production costs, reduced vehicle weight, greater vehicle performance and increased survivability.
The Jointless Hull Project is being contracted through LIFT, a US Department of Defense-supported national manufacturing innovation institute while the US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Ground Vehicle Systems Center, Ground Vehicle System Center (DEVCOM GVSC) is directing the technical programme. The Army’s Rock Island Arsenal – Joint Manufacturing Technology Center is also a key partner on this project and will serve as the location for the operation of the new AM platform. ASTRO America has already kicked off the project with an Industry Day featuring both prospective machine vendors and leading vehicle builders.
“The mission is to develop a large-scale tool capable of producing single, jointless combat vehicle hulls at a near net size of 30 ft x 20 ft x 12 ft [9 m x 6 m x 3.5 m] in size,” stated Larry ‘LJ’ Holmes, Principal Investigator at ASTRO America. “Additive Manufacturing at a massive scale holds the potential to transform the way vehicles are built for the military while reducing supply chain fragility.”
Monolithic hulls for combat vehicles have reputedly well-established advantages – especially in survivability and weight savings – but traditional manufacturing processes are not cost-effective or adaptable to full production, especially when multiple vehicle platforms are put into play.
Aaron LaLonde, Additive Manufacturing SME, US ARMY – DEVCOM GVSC, and the Army TPOC for the Jointless Hull Project, commented, “Advanced manufacturing methods that are capable of enabling innovative part designs and concepts have tremendous value in achieving part, component, and ultimately vehicle concepts to provide warfighters and systems with leading performance advantages. This project will scale the benefits of metal Additive Manufacturing to a size range that will allow the benefits of the technology to be realised on larger system scale parts and enable next generation vehicle performance.”
ASTRO America states that this award is a testament to the need being met by the organisation to correct broader market failures and deliver state-of-the-technology solutions to the end customer to rapidly address warfighter needs.
“This is an ideal project for ASTRO America and its highly experienced team,” stated Jason Gorey, ASTRO America’s Executive Director. “This is not a research project for either hardware, software or materials. This is a direct implementation project where we scale existing, but advanced, methodologies to the required hull-scale size. We will be working with equipment vendors as well as system integrators to deliver on this project.”
Nigel Francis, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director, LIFT, added, “As a national manufacturing innovation institute, we help advance technology from concept to use by the warfighter as quickly as possible. Developing the ‘jointless hull’ is also aligned with our mission of driving American manufacturing into the future by connecting materials to processes and to the systems involved.”