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News | March 3, 2017

Defense logistics official sees potential in 3-D printing parts

By David McNally Army Research Laboratory Public Affairs

Across the DOD, leaders are looking at technology solutions for complex challenges. For future logistics support, additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing may hold the key.

Brig. Gen. Allan E. Day, commander of Defense Logistics Agency Aviation, a field activity of the Defense Logistics Agency, Richmond, Virginia, visited officials at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory at APG Feb. 23 to learn about advances in materials sciences.

Many of today's weapons systems and platforms are legacy systems that were designed and manufactured decades ago and are maintained through expensive repair or replacement parts.

"Take the B-52 Bomber for instance, it's a legacy system that's going to be on the flight line for a long time," Day said. "Its life is being extended continuously. So, for the logistics community, additive manufacturing is a game-changer."

Day said he's optimistic that as the technology matures, 3-D printing may provide a cost effective and efficient path to keeping systems at full readiness.

The general toured ARL's Rodman Materials Research Laboratory and learned about the Army's initiatives for unique additive manufacturing technologies like cold spray. Cold spray is a material-deposition process where metal or metal-ceramic mixtures of powders are sprayed to form a coating or even a freestanding structure.

"The particles embed on impact, forming a strong bond with the surface," explained Victor Champagne, ARL's Advanced Materials and Processes team leader.

Champagne said the technology has already saved millions of defense dollars by enabling the re-use of previously unusable worn parts.

Day also met with the laboratory's additive manufacturing team to discuss advanced techniques that will one day enable confidence that critical parts will perform as intended.

"Additive manufacturing gives the unit the advantage to make the part themselves right then and there," Day said. "They won't have to outsource to get these parts. That means they'll get the part sooner."

Day said he hopes future processes will result in parts that are "just as reliable" as traditionally manufactured parts.

The laboratory is looking to discover new and innovative technology solutions, officials said.

"Many of the capabilities required by the Army will significantly depend on substantial improvements over the current state-of-the-art in materials synthesis, fabrication, and processing methodologies," ARL officials said. "We conduct the fundamental interdisciplinary research in materials and manufacturing science that will ensure rapid and affordable development of materials, from discovery to delivery, critical to the Army of the future.

Day oversees more than $3.8 billion in annual sales in the DOD's aviation demand chain. His organization, DLA Aviation, supports more than 1,800 weapon systems and is the DOD's integrated materiel manager for more than 1.1 million national stock number items, industrial retail supply and depot-level repairable acquisitions.

"The work that is being done at ARL is extremely important," Day said. "We need to press the envelope and continue moving forward, finding different ways of creating new parts that will help the supply chain."

Editor's note: The original story can be viewed on the Army's website.