The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), a combat support agency in the United States Department of Defense (DoD), is working to develop common technology, standards and processes for Additive Manufacturing that will enable the military services to share data and increase readiness while saving money, an agency leader said during the 7th Annual Military Additive Manufacturing Summit in Tampa, Florida, in early February.
“Our research and development efforts are enabling digital transformation across the [Defense] Department, facilitating critical collaboration with our partners, and will ensure DLA is poised to be a force enabler for AM across DOD,” stated Patrick Kelleher, executive director of operations and sustainment for DLA Logistics Operations.
The summit is run by the Defense Strategies Institute for defence agencies and industry partners and focused this year on developing and integrating AM solutions that revolutionise the US industrial base and give soldiers flexibility.
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DLA’s four-pronged role in AM was formally defined in June 2021 through DOD Instruction 5000.93. It includes defining processes to integrate Additive Manufacturing into the supply chain and setting standards for safely handling and distributing raw materials. The agency’s second focus area is developing processes for sharing supplier-generated technical data across the department and documenting and maintaining a list of sources that have successfully delivered AM parts and raw materials.
Developing a DOD framework for sharing common technical data requirements and acceptance criteria is the third part of DLA’s AM efforts, followed by the responsibility to integrate AM into the department’s IT architecture.
“DLA’s role is more clearly defined than ever, and that’s to be a facilitator and enabler of service-driven AM capabilities,” Kelleher added. “We’re focused on eventually procuring AM items designated for DLA supply support. This is only going to be possible with strong collaboration and strategic partnerships with the military services.”
The Joint Additive Manufacturing Model Exchange is Intended to act as key part of DLA’s contribution and lets users download and Additive Manufacturing from multiple sources through a single system. It launched in January 2020 and the US Army is the first service to use it. Kelleher said the best use for JAMMEX so far is for interim parts for battle-damaged equipment while users wait for the actual part to be delivered.
“DLA is excited for JAMMEX to continue to provide a full spectrum of support to the warfighter by reducing readiness risks, decreasing costs by providing a catalog of alternate sources for hard-to-procure and obsolete parts, and improving responsiveness,” he added.
DLA is also working toward remote inspection for additively manufactured parts. Conventional inspections can take over 100 steps, but remote inspections typically take about ten, Kelleher said, adding that the benefits of remote inspection are significant.
“It allows for real-time feedback from various experts, which improves inspection quality and speed. It reduces contract lead time and travel costs, and increases material availability,” he continued.
The DOD Manufacturing Technology Program gives DLA yet another way to develop and support advanced manufacturing technologies to lower costs for production as well as repair and maintenance. The agency’s R&D team recently partnered with the US Army, academia and industry through ManTech to use Additive Manufacturing to address supply shortages due to an issue in manufacturing quality of a fuel elbow for the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.
“This initiative showcases DLA’s ability to partner with the military services to design, build and test additive manufacturing parts to strengthen the defense supply chain,” Kelleher said.
DLA Aviation Commander Air Force Brig Gen Sean Tyler said during a panel discussion at the summit that the ability to download validated 3D designs and additively manufacture parts anywhere in the world is a game changer for military logistics because it can make legacy weapons systems easier to maintain.
“Rather than having to continue to produce and store parts for potential obsolescence, we can store digital plans and manufacture true just-in-time, on-the-spot parts and equipment,” Tyler added.
Tyler stressed that expanding Additive Manufacturing throughout DOD requires alignment and commitment from stakeholders ranging from programme offices and academia to engineers.