News | Sept. 8, 2016

DLA looks to commercial industry for innovative solutions

By Beth Reece

Counterfeit parts prevention and additive manufacturing are among numerous areas that need innovative solutions from commercial industry, Defense Logistics Agency’s research and development chief said during the agency’s first Research and Development Industry Day Sept. 7 at the McNamara Headquarters Complex.

“We’re only touching the tip of the iceberg with respect to research and development. There are innovations out there that you have that we may not even be aware of but should be following. It might just be your innovation or new product that’s a logistics solution for DLA,” Kelly Morris told representatives from 14 companies. 

The event familiarized industry representatives with DLA’s strategic objectives and initiatives geared toward improving warfighter support and supply chain management. Attendees also learned about the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs, which enable small businesses to explore their technological potential and provide profit incentives. 

Research and development efforts stretch across DLA’s nine supply chains and involve distribution modernization, strategic materials, combat rations and supply chain security. Casting and forging programs are in dire need of innovation, Morris said, because many of the parts on aging weapons systems are no longer available and businesses no longer manufacture them.

“Our casting and forging program is critically important because we’ve got to have sources of supply,” she said.

The agency is also seeking advances in battery technology. Soldiers on deployment often must carry 20 to 30 pounds of batteries. Goals include extending battery lifespans, as well as reducing size and weight. Using lithium ion instead of nickel cadmium may also yield environmental benefits. 

DLA is already working with the Navy and Air Force to accelerate additive manufacturing for parts that are hard to source or backordered, but wants to “move the needle forward.”
“We’re now looking for ways to procure parts via 3D models using our existing DLA processes and manufacturing. We also want to move DLA from a PDF tech data package to a ‘smart’ data and engineering models,” Morris added. 

Other areas industry can influence include the modernization of warehouses with robotics and automated ground vehicles, as well as counterfeit parts.

“We want parts that are trusted and true from original equipment manufacturers. It’s not like walking around with a knock-off handbag,” Morris said. “We need real parts that are going to last.”

DLA is also looking for domestic sources for high modulus carbon fiber needed in airframes and the aerospace industry.

DLA’s current annual budget for research and development is $38 million. Morris said the amount is small compared with the military services’ budgets, but partnerships with industry can help make the most out of existing funds. 

The event follows the DLA Land and Maritime Suppliers’ Conference and Expo held in Columbus, Ohio, where Frank Kendall, under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics said the United States is quickly losing its technological superiority to adversaries. He stressed the need for DoD to start implementing new, innovative ideas. Innovation is a key tenet of Bettering Buying Power 3.0, the department’s acquisition efficiency initiative. 

Morris outlined four Broad Agency Announcements that solicit research proposals from private and public sectors. 

“If you have a new innovation or something you’re working on that could be a solution in the DoD environment, we could test that out,” she said. “And if you have an innovation that doesn’t fit one of those four areas, just let us know and we’ll add it.”