The future of defense readiness lies in additive manufacturing at DSEI 2023.

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I recently attended one of Europe’s largest defense and security events, DSEI, to learn more about how the industry is utilizing additive manufacturing. Walking through the event, surrounded by military hardware and military officers from all over the world, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of anticipation and excitement.

One of the highlights of the event was a discussion panel on additive manufacturing, led by the MTC’s Andy Barnes. As the panel came to a close, I overheard a call for a ten-minute warning. In a crowded room full of military enthusiasts, this was not a phrase you wanted to hear. But luckily, it was just a call to wrap up the panel.

Dr. Ross Trepleton, Associate Director – Technology Strategy at MTC, kicked off the discussion by highlighting the evolution of additive manufacturing. He explained how it started as a rapid prototyping technology but has now become much more mainstream for new component applications. Dr. Trepleton showcased some intriguing examples, such as a GE midframe structure that eliminated the need for 300 parts from 50 different sources, and a space application antenna that consolidated 100 parts into one, resulting in a significant 95% cost savings.

One industry that has fully embraced additive manufacturing is the U.S. hearing aid sector. Dr. Trepleton shared that the entire supply chain shifted to additive manufacturing within just 500 days, leaving companies that failed to adapt out of business. This is a testament to the power and potential of additive manufacturing.

When it comes to the defense industry, the applications for additive manufacturing are numerous. Technologies like cold spray or filament-based additive solutions can be used for urgent short-term repairs. Dr. Trepleton also highlighted a collaboration between Babcock International Group and the MOD, which utilized additive manufacturing to create a more economically feasible periscope system.

While there are challenges to adopting additive manufacturing, such as upfront costs, the potential cost savings and reduced lead times often justify the expense. Group Captain Leonie Boyd from the Royal Air Force weighed in on this, emphasizing the need for a more flexible and scalable range of solutions in the defense industry. Additive manufacturing provides just that, offering a supplemental avenue to traditional methods.

Boyd shared examples of how additive manufacturing has already benefited the RAF, such as the ability to develop a prototype spare part in just 24 hours, a task that would have taken three or four days using traditional methods. For the Navy, the vision is to have global manufacturing hubs strategically placed to ensure efficiency. This would revolutionize logistical efficiency and increase scalability and sustainability.

In conclusion, additive manufacturing has the potential to greatly benefit the defense industry. It increases the options available for maintaining equipment, increases scalability and sustainability, and ultimately helps defense forces be ready for any operational requirements. The challenges and triumphs of 3D printing were discussed at the event, highlighting the industry’s need to navigate unpredictable waters. However, with the nimbleness and innovation offered by additive manufacturing, the future looks bright for the defense sector.

Title: Revolutionizing Defense Manufacturing through Collaboration and Standardization

Introduction:

In the rapidly evolving landscape of defense manufacturing, one aspect remains clear – 3D printing holds unparalleled potential for innovation. However, numerous challenges must be overcome to maximize its benefits. From workforce training and security concerns to intellectual property rights and policy alignment, the industry must collectively address these hurdles to unlock the true potential of additive manufacturing. This blog post delves into the key issues discussed by industry experts, emphasizing the need for collaboration and standardization.

1. Workforce Challenges:

Steven Barnes, BAE Systems Air’s Additive Manufacturing Process & Capability Lead, highlighted the shortage of recruits trained in designing for 3D printing. Although skilled in other areas, these employees struggle to adapt their skills to the additive manufacturing arena. Barnes emphasized the urgent need for standardized training and skill development to bridge this gap effectively.

2. Security Concerns and Collaboration:

Collaboration within the defense sector faces obstacles due to stringent cybersecurity stipulations and the sensitivity of classified information. Morley, a defense sector expert, acknowledged that integrating external partners into defense projects requires navigating a complex maze of security protocols. However, recognizing the need for progress, there is growing optimism about the potential for collaboration, emphasizing the shift from isolated efforts to collective pursuits.

3. Intellectual Property Rights (IPR):

The complexities surrounding intellectual property rights pose significant challenges within the defense manufacturing industry. With billions invested in technology development, distinguishing between public domain knowledge and proprietary data becomes increasingly complex. Ensuring clarity and adherence to IPR is crucial for fostering a collaborative and innovation-driven environment.

4. Design Thinking and OEM Collaboration:

Steven Barnes emphasized the growing significance of involving original equipment manufacturers (OEM) in the design process. Building parts with the 3D printing process in mind from the initial design stage enhances efficiency and durability. Additionally, incentivizing the use of 3D printing for frequently damaged or lost parts can streamline adoption and reduce costs.

5. Raising Awareness and Financial Apprehensions:

Dr. Ross Trepleton from the Manufacturing Technology Centre discussed the need to increase awareness about the transformative potential of 3D printing. Many organizations remain unaware of the benefits it offers, resulting in financial apprehension and resistance to investing in additive manufacturing technologies. The industry must focus on educating stakeholders about the long-term returns and advantages of embracing 3D printing.

6. Redesigning for Additive Manufacturing:

Kieron Salter, CEO of the Digital Manufacturing Centre (DMC), emphasized the need to reimagine designs for additive manufacturing rather than merely adapting existing ones. By embracing additive manufacturing’s unique capabilities, such as rapid lead times, cost efficiency, and lightweighting, manufacturers can revolutionize production processes. Salter provided a case study demonstrating how DMC transformed a single prototype part into 400 production-ready additive designs for the automotive industry.

7. Strategic Alignment and Policy:

Group Captain Leonie Boyd of the Royal Air Force highlighted the lack of coherence across different defense branches regarding 3D printing. This lack of a unified defense strategy impedes the sector’s ability to leverage the full potential of additive manufacturing. Fostering cohesive policies and widespread adoption throughout defense organizations is vital to fueling the revolution in defense manufacturing.

Conclusion:

Addressing the challenges faced by the defense manufacturing industry requires a collective effort in collaboration and standardization. By investing in workforce training, enhancing security protocols, navigating intellectual property rights, involving OEMs in the design process, raising awareness, redesigning for additive manufacturing, and aligning strategic policies, the industry can truly unlock the transformative potential of 3D printing. The road ahead may be challenging, but the rewards in terms of innovation, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness make it a journey worth undertaking.

The importance of having measures in place to calibrate and monitor the advancements in additive manufacturing cannot be overstated. The need for an industry-level consensus on what a standard process means is crucial for businesses to keep up with the rapid changes in this field.

There are already important bodies, such as ASTM, that are paving the way in establishing these standards. However, there is still much work to be done. Jonathan Morley from Babcock International Group emphasized that it is not necessary for everyone to become an expert, but rather to have a familiarity and awareness of what is happening in the industry.

The complexity of 3D printing requires a basic comprehension from all team members in a business. Steven Barnes from BAE Systems Air highlighted the pivotal role of design in the 3D printing ecosystem. Many problems arise when components are designed without considering 3D printing, leading to inefficiencies and bottlenecks in the manufacturing process. It is essential to embed 3D printing knowledge early in the design phase.

Initiatives like TAMPA – Additive Manufacturing as a Service – are already underway to accelerate the maturity of additive manufacturing and make better use of it. Dr. Ross Trepleton from the Manufacturing Technology Centre pointed out that countries like the US are significantly ahead in this field, with programs such as America Makes driving the industry forward.

The underlying message is clear: without consensus on standards and a collaborative effort to build industry familiarity, the UK risks falling behind in the world of 3D printing. The potential of additive manufacturing in the defense sector is immense, but it requires a concerted effort to unlock its full capabilities.

To achieve this, standards, data sharing, and the digitization of the supply chain are crucial. Collaboration is key in order to stay competitive in this rapidly evolving industry.

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