DLA forging and casting investment continues to provide returns 25 years later

By Cathy Hopkins DLA Aviation Public Affairs

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In the early 1990s, Defense Logistics Agency recognized the need to invest in future technology; the agency saw that some once-robust domestic supply chains were disappearing, fragmenting or going overseas.

Now, 25-plus years later, the agency’s forging and casting initiative is yielding benefits from knowledge shared by industry, the military services and DLA Aviation.

Participants in the DLA enterprise program include DLA’s land and maritime and aviation supply chains, engineering service activities from the military services and members of the American Metalcasting Consortium.

The consortium competes for research and development funds from DLA to develop new metal-casting technology and processes to support DLA in the design, manufacture and procurement of cast parts. AMC aligns metal-casting engineers and research institutions with its industrial partners to meet DLA’s need for reduced lead times, improved quality and lower costs for new and legacy weapons systems. Through such initiatives, DLA helped to develop additive manufacturing technology and build the industry’s knowledge base. DLA Logistics Operations makes DLA Aviation and DLA Land and Maritime Forging and Casting Assistance teams possible by funding positions that support the program’s three focus areas: procurement, new technologies and technology transfers.

Frank DiPofi, who has worked for DLA Aviation since 2000, has a background in environmental, industrial and petroleum engineering and is DLA Aviation’s Forging and Casting Assistance Team program manager.

DiPofi said decades-old technical data and production methods were geared to the high-volume production of the past and not the low-volume sustainment orders needed to maintain America’s aging aircraft systems today. DLA formed the forging and casting initiative to help find additional suppliers, ensure quality parts, locate tooling, fix outdated technical data and reduce costs and lead times to procure consumable weapon system parts.

DLA Aviation’s AFCAT is a key aspect of the initiative focused on DLA’s ability to rapidly procure high-quality supply items that contain cast or forged components.

DiPofi said the team strives to identify these components before they are procured by alerting bidders of the items’ presence in the purchase order.

Since the initiative began, the team has trained well over 400 DLA Aviation employees through its “Introduction to Metal Casting and Forging” Technology Transfer seminars.

During the most recent seminar in September 2015, DLA Aviation students again attended lectures delivered by forging and casting experts as they traveled by bus to Lenape Forge in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and Danko Arlington Foundry in Baltimore, Maryland.

DiPofi said engineering specialists, supervisors and active duty officers often attend these seminars each year. “The goal is to provide information on the latest technologies and a forum to learn more about the special production processes used to make many DLA supply items.”

On their visit to Lenape Forge, students received an overview of the forging industry and Lenape Forge’s processes and capabilities, touring the facility and seeing the powerful forging processes in action, as the red-hot components were pounded into shape.

Forging is an art and can be done with a hot or cold process, said DiPofi. “Forging imparts certain changes in the metal itself, changes that are critical in producing certain safety parts, like landing gear.”

At their second stop, students visited the Danko Arlington Foundry. Here, students saw how the company modernized through its partnership with the AFCAT initiative to convert their processes to use additive manufacturing (AM) and digital models to produce molds/patterns.

Foundry owner John Danko explained to students that using AM techniques was key to his family’s transformation of the company to effectively compete for DLA Aviation contracts. Danko’s pattern-making shop is now mostly idle. Danko told DLA the pattern-making profession is now largely obsolete and that it is virtually impossible to fill jobs requiring those skills.

DiPofi said AM technology has been around for decades, but it wasn’t until about five years ago that DLA Aviation started working with Danko Arlington to produce castings for DLA. The company had no contracts with DLA Aviation but was intrigued when AFCAT encouraged his company to compete for DLA contracts. During meetings with Danko Arlington, AFCAT and DLA discussed the problem of providing small orders of specialized castings quickly and inexpensively. To overcome this, the foundry decided to buy AM systems to quickly manufacture the tooling needed to meet DLA needs more efficiently than traditional methods. Through the program, answers to key questions enabled Danko Arlington to participate in more than 300 competitive solicitations.

DiPofi further explained how Danko Arlington’s use of AM processes helps support both DoD’s Better Buying Power initiative and DLA’s Time to Award initiative.

The traditional casting process involves making parts by packing sand around hand-made patterns to form a mold for molten metal. Such patterns are expensive and time consuming to make. Keith Sturgill, AFCAT casting applications engineer, told students “DLA Aviation provides technical data packages and military specifications that specify a part to a potential supplier like Danko Arlington, who then builds the 3D pattern known as a solid model on the computer.” The company’s additive manufacturing method uses the fused depositional modeling process where a 3D printer creates a polycarbonate casting pattern layer-by-layer. After casting the component, Danko Arlington then completes the part using highly automated, computer-controlled manufacturing methods.

Because there were not many companies interested in bidding parts purchased in low quantities and at infrequent intervals, qualifying Danko Arlington as a new source of supply, helped DLA Aviation to fulfill its promise to provide timely parts to the military services and helped save the agency money in the process.

Many of the first parts Danko Arlington provided to DLA Aviation were for the Air Force’s T-38 trainer aircraft, which resulted in more than $10 million in cost avoidance and savings.