A new program is launching to further the integration of additive manufacturing in the supply chain for the US Army.
Announced by the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM) and America Makes, which is itself an NCDMM program, along with partner Catalyst Connection, the program is called AMNOW.
Defense applications for additive manufacturing are a quickly growing, and much debated, area. Some companies in 3D printing refuse to be involved in these applications; others see defense as an important strategic focus. While not too many details about AMNOW’s specific aims have been released so far, attention here is on the supply chain side of Army operations.
Supplying necessary goods and supplies to deployed troops is a rather tangled web. In the field, unexpected parts may break well before they might normally wear down, or replacements may be needed on the fly.
Sometimes the smallest parts can have a major impact; one case study for military 3D printing in the field focused on a small plastic clip the Navy made on a ship. The six-cent TruClip design secures radio clasp attachments, saving thousands of dollars in previously easily-broken equipment. That small clip, designed about three years ago, has since made its way into space on the ISS, demonstrating widespread use for onboard 3D printing in hard-to-reach (and thus hard-to-supply) areas.
“Logistically, military supply chains are some of the most complex in the world,” said Ralph Resnick, NCDMM President and Chief Executive Officer and Founding Director of America Makes. “The long-term implications of the AMNOW program for the U.S. Army and its supply chain are substantial.”
AMNOW is “potentially” a multi-phase, multi-year contract. There will clearly be some exploring happening to see just where the value is for the Army. With $3.7 million in funding to start off with the initial phase, that exploration is starting off pretty well-funded.
This first phase, Resnick noted, is to create “a solid foundation and a clear path on how to best advance AM technologies into the Army’s supply chain.” The announcement gets into this foundational phase a bit more:
“Specifically, this initial phase will prepare to integrate and accelerate the dissemination, transition, and use of innovative, cross-cutting AM technologies for the Army to enhance operations. By enabling a robust AM supply chain and clear technology AM transition path, AMNOW will be poised to help increase the U.S. Army’s readiness and facilitate on-demand production of materials in support of warfighters and commanders on the battlefield.”
Catalyst Connection, for its part, also sees the value of the project for stimulation regional economic growth. The company’s President and CEO, Petra Mitchell, noted that AMNOW will offer “a tremendous regional economic growth opportunity for small- to medium-sized manufactures within the SWPA region.”
For both AMNOW and the regional implications, it’s the localization of production that stands out as a key benefit of bringing 3D printing into operations. Producing what’s needed, when it’s needed, where it’s needed is often touted as one of the significant capabilities with additive manufacturing — and is a large focus in any supply chain looking to adopt the technology.
There’s still a long road ahead to wider adoption of 3D printing in military applications, but it’s a road that is already being paved.
While defense itself may be debated as an application, the supply chain and business aspects of incorporating 3D printing more deeply into Army operations stand strongly on their own merits.
So basically (forgive me): What does the Army want? AM! When do they want it? NOW! What’s that…yell? AMNOW!
Via America Makes