Home' Army Acquisition Logistics and Technology Magazine : Army ALT January-March 2019 Contents The beauty of this approach is that changes in the tooling process
don’t require an engineering change.
“You can get quick turnaround on tooling. The design process
takes place, but the manufacturing can take place in days instead
of weeks,” a s opposed to the traditional way that tooling has to
get up to speed for manufacturing, Flinn said. “For prototyp-
ing or for mainstream manufacturing, I can have a tool made
[additively] and up and running in 24 hours. We’ve experienced
that here [at Rock Island] on a process where we were getting 50
percent scrap. We changed the tooling on it and basically elimi-
nated the scrap comple t e ly.”
This business of figuring out where the additive sweet spot lies
is one of the things that REF’s Ex Lab and RDECOM’s R-FAB
are helping the Army understand, either inside or outside the
battlespace, Phillis said.
“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. And that’s the big piece that we always want to empha-
size, that this is for emergency repair or temporary missions only.
We are not doing field printing to replace” the manufacturer, he
said. That can only be done to supplement the supply system and
with the maker’s knowledge. Any time a Soldier wants to engage
R-FAB, the part must be ordered through the supply system
before R-FAB can produce a replacement.
That shows where additive technology is useful. It shows not just
how the discipline can work for the Army, but where it should
work. R-FAB wants to know where additive manufacturing has
intervened to help readiness.
Conventional manufacturing has been around since the dawn of
time. Additive has been here for about 25 years, and that shiny
surface of possibility has scarcely been scratched.
Right now, one of the major impediments to additive is physics
itself. There is only so hot you can make a polymer, only so fast
you can squeeze it out of a nozzle.
“There are definitely physical limits [to additive manufacturing].
I can only pump so much laser power into a metal-powder bed
without burning everything up. Inputting too much heat can
cause a distortion and the whole thing just melts away,” said
“In every different type of additive process, they have some sort
of physical limitation that’s associated with them. ... Most of
the materials that we’re manufacturing [with] right now are not
really designed for additive. They’re legacy materials.” For exam-
ple, a nickel-based alloy, Inconel 718, “is a welding alloy, which
makes it relatively easy to additively manufacture, but it really
wasn’t designed for additiv e .”
The big breakthroughs in additive seem most likely to come with
new materials and processes and new design tools. “When we
start designing our materials for additive manufacturing, that’s
when you can really start to see some performance gains, I
believe,” Gaddes said.
Additive manufacturing will allow Soldiers deployed in remote
outposts around the world to print virtually anything they need,
from food to shelter to weapons, or even new skin cells to repair
burned skin. Efforts are under way to create replacement body
parts and custom-made medical devices.
The replicator from “Star Trek ” worked by rearranging mole-
cules to create whatever was needed. We’re a long way from that,
but the Army, as Perconti noted, is working to “develop the
additive manufacturing tools that will leverage machine learn-
ing, information-fusion capabilities and the like to seamlessly
integrate various designs, various digital manufacturing tech-
niques and to bring things all the way from concept to final
design in the components, quickly and inexpensively.” That’s
the Army’s future.
For more information on the Army’s additive center of excellence,
go to https://www.dvidshub.net/news/297208/ria-jmtc-hosts-
STEVE STARK is senior editor of Army AL&T magazine. He holds
an M.A . in creative writing from Hollins University and a B.A . in
English from George Mason University. In addition to more than
two decades of editing and writing about the military and S&T,
he is the best-selling ghostwriter of several consumer health-
oriented books and an award-winning novelist. He is Level
II certified in program management.
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