DLA seeks defense industry’s support in research, development efforts

By Beth Reece

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Defense industry representatives got a detailed review of innovation efforts underway at the Defense Logistics Agency during DLA’s Research and Development Industry Day Oct. 3 at the McNamara Headquarters Complex.

Industry partners will play a key role as DLA harnesses modernization and innovation to achieve Department of Defense priorities like warfighter readiness and better business practices, said William Tinston, executive officer for DLA Information Operations, which oversees the agency’s Research and Development Program.

“We can’t do this on our own. We need you guys to help us,” he said.

The agency’s R&D program, for which it expects to spend over $61 million in 2019, is split into two areas. The first and largest area is manufacturing technology. It supports industrial preparedness by improving manufacturing processes and maintaining viable supply sources. The portfolio includes advanced microcircuit emulation, batteries, castings and forgings, additive manufacturing and more.

The second area is logistics research and development. It focuses on improving logistics processes; embracing emerging technology such as unmanned vehicles and robotics; and enhancing analysis, modeling and decision support.

“It’s intended to be more inwardly focused and to help us develop new processes and technologies so we can be more efficient and effective,” said Kelly Morris, DLA’s research and development chief. “For example, you can never do enough demand planning and forecasting. There are predictive tools out there that we’re working on incorporating.”

Morris described specific areas where DLA has invested money and time in improving logistics support and warfighter readiness. The agency’s progress in additive manufacturing began several years ago and continues to evolve, she said. Challenges include determining which of the 5.2 million line items DLA manages are suitable for additive manufacturing, as well as partnering with the services’ engineering support activities to create standards for models that enable prompt testing, evaluation and acceptance of additively manufactured parts.

“They have a full plate just trying to qualify parts that are made from subtractive manufacturing like castings and forgings, and this is new to them. We’re working with them to get people trained,” she said, adding that management and sharing of 3D technical data used to create parts also need refinement.

The goal, Morris continued, is to enable 3D printing solutions for hard-to-source parts or those with long production times, especially in field or combat environments where customers need parts immediately, not weeks or months later.

Castings and forgings have helped the agency reduce backorders and production time for some spare parts, but more work is necessary, she added. Though castings were once done by pouring metal into wooden molds, modern businesses cast parts using metal molds and3D technical data.

In strategic materials, the agency is working with industry to qualify domestic sources for high modulus carbon fiber commonly used in the aerospace industry and the reclamation of rare earth elements.

Microcircuit emulation is another important focus area. Many of the military’s weapons systems have old, obsolete microcircuits that are still in high demand.

“Industry has already moved beyond and is making modern microcircuits,” Morris said. “No business is in business to make old stuff even though we still need it.”

Rather than spend millions of dollars redesigning new electronic systems for older weapons system platforms, the agency is working with industry to reverse engineer microcircuits.

Even DLA’s well sought-after storage and distribution capabilities need innovation.

“We often brag about how great our distribution center is up in New Cumberland [Pennsylvania], but it was built in the early 90s. Modern distribution facilities in the 21st century are much different” and have adopted new technology such as drones in the inventory process, Morris said.

The event also featured presentations from managers of several DLA R&D programs and followed another industry event held in September to share forecasting and demand data for critical supplies like aircraft parts and electronics.