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US Navy All-In On Distributed Manufacturing?

Command and control systems for the US Navy [Source: NWIC]

An announcement from 3YOURMIND suggests the US Navy has a very comprehensive plan for a 3D printed future.

The announcement was straightforward, saying that the US Navy has selected 3YOURMIND to provide an “agile PLM” and “MES”. “PLM”, or “Product Lifecycle Management”, is software that handles the movement of a design through the various phases of development towards production. “MES”, or “Manufacturing Execution System”, manages the steps involved in physically producing a part from a given design.

3YOURMIND said:

“The AM software provider is committed to help the Department of Defense using additive manufacturing to create and distribute parts at locations across the globe and deliver assets in a timely manner regardless of quantity.”

William Cuervo, Sr. Business Development Manager at 3YOURMIND, explained:

“It’s imperative for the US military to have secure data and production transparency to achieve operational success. With multiple, international locations equipped with a variety of AM technologies, materials and competencies — it’s valuable to have a sophisticated software strategy that collates and organizes this information.”

What’s really going on here?

It’s a combination of distributed manufacturing and digital inventory, and that could be quite a powerful force. In fact, 3YOURMIND’s client within the US Navy is actually the Naval Information Warfare Center for the Pacific. Note the word “Information”.

Digital inventory is the concept of not pre-making piles of spare parts when anticipating future use. This was (and often still is) the case, as factories with expensive production lines that exist only for a short time must make all the parts necessary, for today and the future. Storage of those parts over the course of years is tremendously expensive. In a digital inventory the parts are “kept” in digital form and 3D printed only when required. This saves an enormous amount of resources over a physical inventory.

Meanwhile, distributed manufacturing is the concept of producing the required parts at or near the requesting location, as opposed to producing them centrally and shipping them to the requestor.

Shipping is expensive and time consuming, and also produces noxious CO2. Shipping should be avoided if possible, and that’s possible with a digital inventory.

Instead of 3D printing them at a central location, the 3D model is transmitted electronically to a target area where a local 3D printer can produce an identical part. The “shipping” becomes electronic.

In this project, the US Navy is combining these two capabilities, and potentially adding another. It’s not clear, but it is possible some of the regional 3D printing sites might be on Navy ships. This would create a “mobile distributed manufacturing for digital inventory” capability.

By centrally controlling such a production “network” using the 3YOURMIND software, the US Navy would have a powerful capability. For example, if an improvement to a machine was discovered, it could be instantly dispatched to the network for local production and installation. This could provide a never-ending stream of coordinated mechanical improvements to any equipment in the field, and that’s a capability any military would want.

While this project seems to be only for the Pacific part of the US Navy, I imagine it could rapidly spread to other military branches if it proves successful.

Via 3YOURMIND and NWIC Pacific

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