In response to growing concerns about the state of U.S. manufacturing industries,
Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) created the National Center for Defense Manufacturing
The federally funded, non-profit research center, based in Latrobe, Pa., was
formed to test and develop advanced machining and manufacturing processes.
Murtha secured $1.5 million in federal funding for the NCDMM in the Defense
Department’s fiscal year 2003 budget, with an additional $3.4 million
approved for 2004.
Key to the NCDMM concept is the participation of “alliance partners”
—- U.S.-based companies with advanced expertise in specific aspects of
the manufacturing process. Companies team up to address specific manufacturing
To date, about 20 companies have signed on as partners. “Depending on
the application, we assemble a different set of alliance partners. We select
the best ones for each program,” said Mark Huston, director of the NCDMM.
A list of all of the alliance partners is available at www.ncdmm.org.
The center increasingly is providing support in major military programs. A
case in point is the machining of high-strength, lightweight materials such
as titanium and composites, which are becoming more prevalent in military vehicles
The NCDMM is assisting the Army’s Armament Research, Development and
Engineering Center, at the Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., with the machining of titanium
components developed for a lightweight version of the 155 mm howitzer.
Tooling and process improvements reduced the time needed to machine one component
from 400 to 120 hours, which saved $14,000 per part. Army engineering technician
Bill Bakula said working with the NCDMM “brings us up to date with all
the new techniques, which we will definitely be able to apply to other projects.”
Department of Defense contracts require that large manufacturers subcontract
a portion of their work to smaller shops, and NCDMM helps those smaller shops
to take on contracts they couldn’t handle in the past.
“Many of the locations I’ve visited are not using state-of-the-market
technology, let alone state of the art,” said Huston. “It’s
not that they don’t want to be using today’s technology; often it’s
that they don’t have time to address it, to learn what’s out there
and how to most effectively apply it.
The NCDMM has begun “rapid response programs” that take between
six weeks and six months to accomplish. The basic goal is to provide at least
a 30 percent improvement in productivity.
In a typical rapid response program, Huston said, “we gather a group
of partners who will allow us to go to a shop, look at the part and material,
choose the correct machine to make the part, recommend the right cutting tool,
dynamically analyze the operation to determine speeds and feeds, then optimize
the CNC (computer-numerically-controlled machining) program.”
The NCDMM has carried out a number of successful rapid-response programs. In
one program, the center helped Lord Corporation, Dayton, Ohio, raise the output
of a titanium main rotor bearing for a Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopter by a third
without increasing the hours worked. The part was being machined in multiple
steps, but one operation consumed 100 minutes and was a bottleneck for production
flow. The NCDMM recommended a combination of advanced tooling and innovative
machining techniques that reduced the machining time for the operation to 45
Pablo Gonzalez, production manager for Lord Corporation, said, “in the
new process, we implemented state-of-the-market tooling so we could run harder
and, in doing that, trim down the cycle time.” Lord became an NCDMM alliance
partner when it was determined that its “Baladyne” automatic balancing
technology would help to solve other manufacturing problems.
In another rapid-response program, the NCDMM reduced manufacturing time by
more than 50 percent for a 35,000-pound stainless steel casting being machined
by Curtiss Wright Electro-Mechanical Corporation, in Cheswick, Pa., for the
next-generation CVN21 aircraft carrier.
Currently, the center is working with Curtiss Wright to reduce the time and
expense involved in manufacturing a propeller for the Navy.
“By teaming with the NCDMM, we not only got a good machining vendor,
we got specially developed tooling,” said Ray Smith, Curtiss Wright project
An example of a subcontractor shop that has benefited from the services of
the NCDMM is Hamill Manufacturing Company, in Trafford, Pa. The shop was commissioned
to drill a 5.5-inch diameter, 21.5-inch deep hole in 1020 steel in the production
of a filter housing for the Naval Sea Systems Command. The NCDMM recommended
an advanced deep-hole drilling system to replace a series of four drills that
had previously been used. In addition to reducing tooling necessary to complete
the job, the new system reduced drilling time from 63 minutes to 22 minutes,
and improved the quality and surface finish of the hole.
In addition to rapid-response activities, the NCDMM will carry out what Huston
calls “foundational programs.” These one to three year efforts will
explore ways to boost productivity and reduce manufacturing costs.
Jim Opecko, a senior engineering specialist for General Dynamics Land Systems
division in Scranton, Pa., is working the NCDMM to improve manufacturing techniques
and reduce costs in the machining of titanium suspension components for the
Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.
“They’ve promised us some rather lofty goals, and they’ve
already delivered on a couple of them,” said Opecko. “They supplied
a milling cutter that reduced our milling time on certain projects by 60 percent.
Right now our only expense is the time that we invest talking to them. Their
philosophy is to improve manufacturing in this country so that we can be faster,
better, and quicker than anybody else without reducing labor salaries.”
William Kennedy is a freelance writer.