DLA looks to industry for innovative ideas that improve logistics support, boost readiness

By Beth Reece

The innovation of commercial industry and academia is a critical part of maintaining decades-old weapons systems like the B-52 bomber, the Defense Logistics Agency’s director of logistics operations said during the agency’s second annual Industry Day, Oct. 3 at the McNamara Headquarters Complex. 

The newest B-52 was built in 1961, but Department of Defense officials expect it to last another 30 years. Business opportunities using technical data packages built in the ‘50s and ‘60s for such weapons platforms no longer work, said Air Force Maj. Gen. Mark Johnson. 

“We need to figure out a way to collaborate with our industry partners on all the great research and development that’s going on in academia and with all the great engineering capability that’s resident in the United States government. We need to put that together to figure out a way to solve the obsolescence and no-bid challenges that we’re dealing with,” he said. 

The event familiarized almost 200 representatives from industry and academia with the variety of research and development projects underway in each of the agency supply chains. They range from additive manufacturing to counterfeit prevention and warehouse modernization. 

In fiscal 2017, DLA had $56.2 million to back up R&D in two areas. The first is industrial preparedness and manufacturing technology with an external focus on incorporating industrial base manufacturing processes, maintaining viable supply sources, and improving technical and logistics information. 

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 all about improving and making ourselves more efficient,” said Kelly Morris, DLA’s research and development chief. 

Morris described specific areas where DLA has invested money and time in improving logistics support and warfighter readiness. Batteries are one example. 

“We’ve been working over the past several years to reduce the size and weight of batteries, but we’ve also been working to increase their lifespan,” she said. 

Focus in batteries is now on moving from nickel cadmium technologies to lithium ion, which is already widely used in cell phones but needs more research to determine whether it’s relevant in DoD platforms. 

DLA has also made progress in reducing backorders and production time for spare parts by partnering with industry in castings and forgings, through which new molds are created to produce old, obsolete parts. Diminishing sources of supply are also a problem. 

“In our castings and forging programs, we are trying to one, work with industry to ensure a viable industrial base that supports those hard-to-source parts that we need, and two, develop new processes so that they can reduce lead times and make us more efficient,” she said. 

In strategic materials, the agency is working with industry to qualify a domestic source for high modulus carbon fiber, currently available only in Japan. New polypropylene composite armor has also been developed for automotive and tank use, and is less expensive than material traditionally used in vehicle armor. 

DLA’s Defense Logistics Information Research Program is also changing the way technical data used to create new parts through additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is created, stored and shared. While technical data for parts readily exists, most of it is two dimensional rather than three, Morris said. 

“Industry is telling us they’re using 3D data and digitized models to make stuff, so it’s only sensible that we try to crack the code on moving ourselves away from 2D data to 3D digitized data and models,” she continued. “And that presents another problem: How do you share it? Everybody reads a .pdf file different. One of the projects we’re working in this area is trying to share data in a common, neutral format so everybody can read it.” 

Four areas that commercial industry can influence in fiscal 2018 are additive manufacturing, counterfeit parts prevention, market intelligence for supply chain security and distribution modernization. Morris outlined four additional Broad Agency Announcements that solicit research proposals from private and public sectors, encouraging small and large businesses to participate. 

The event also featured presentations from managers of several DLA R&D programs.