Viewpoint: Changing Acquisitions with Advanced Manufacturing

By Frank Gagliardi and Matthew Sloane

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In 2019, the secretary of the Army released a memorandum with the subject line “Army Advanced Manufacturing Directive of 2019-29: Enabling Readiness and Modernization through Advanced Manufacturing.” The directive “establishes policy and assigns responsibilities for the employment of advanced manufacturing methods and materials in all capability areas.”

It is apparent that the genesis of this directive stems from the realization that industry is evolving into the “digital era” of manufacturing. Digitization is the prime mover of advanced manufacturing, and data the fuel for its models, code and automata.

One of the most prominent areas readily associated with this promising manufacturing revolution is additive manufacturing, colloquially known as “3D printing.” Despite its ubiquitous presence within the dictates of the Army directive, the use of additive manufacturing remains a conundrum for our acquisition personnel. The pressing question continues to be: when exactly is it appropriate and sensible to implement additive manufacturing in lieu of traditional manufacturing processes already in place?

Presently, on the surface, additively manufactured solutions and their usage seem destined to remain in the realm of prototyping. Their functional uses are often deemed unproven and cost prohibitive. However, to alleviate natural hesitancies with the unknown and subpar economic returns, the Army directive provides a jump-off point to propel its manufacturing into the future by taking a disciplined approach to selecting and designing parts for additive manufacturing.

The Army approach recognizes and affords the latitude to take its cues from industry and implement a multi-staged business case analysis for part selection. The essentials of the analysis may be comprised of four main areas that collectively address the benefits to the part, materiel system, and manufacturing process. These areas are strategic/performance drivers, technical considerations, activity-based cost assessments, and scheduling considerations.

The first step to any successful implementation of additive manufacturing lies with evaluating influential performance factors or strategic drivers. It is imperative that acquisition professionals resist the temptation to plug additive manufacturing machines into their existing manufacturing processes if they hope to reap all the potential benefits of the new technologies. The Advanced Manufacturing Directive of 2019-29 aids in pointing the acquisition professionals in the right direction by encouraging them to consider the potential improvements in their ability to design, produce, deliver and sustain materiel capabilities.

It is prudent for any industrial manufacturer contributing products to their supply chain as the Army considers theirs, to realize the benefits of product improvements by re-thinking and re-designing with additive manufacturing in mind.

Questions should be: “Have we optimized our design and accounted for the freedom of increased geometric complexity that additive manufacturing provides?”

“Are we considering advanced materials, or are we simply 3D printing with traditional materials for which we already have a traditional source available?” Alternatively, “are we additively manufacturing parts for manufacturing lines that have become obsolete or whose supply line has dramatically decreased?”

Program managers must first adopt — and engineering support staff must encourage — this type of thinking before the technical, cost and scheduling aspects of additive manufacturing are even considered or evaluated.

Once the acquisition community deems that additive manufacturing can provide a strategic benefit to the part design or the supply chain, they should juxtapose its assessment with a more traditional manufacturing process. These comparative assessments will incorporate technical analyses, cost evaluations and scheduling estimates.

The technical analyses must make considerations for both the additive manufacturing process and the additively manufactured end item, as they do for the traditional sources. Cost evaluations will bifurcate into direct and indirect breakdowns — with additive manufacturing-specific distinctions incorporated.

And, finally, scheduling estimates must account for supply chain variations due to the impact of additive manufacturing on sourcing, manufacturing, shipping and receiving — such as just-in-time manufacturing — and distribution.

These three stages of evaluation will provide program managers with a complete and nuanced view of the role of additive manufacturing in shifting the engineering and business landscape toward advanced manufacturing.

Additive manufacturing is not the sole panacea for production, but it does have the ability to change the way many items are “designed, made, bought and delivered.”

Without this realization, a commensurate strategic approach and a nuanced view of the impact of additive manufacturing on the current engineering and business landscape, organizations will never realize the full benefits of this technology. 

Frank Gagliardi, Ph.D. and Matthew Sloane, Ph.D. are the principal investigators for the Advanced Manufacturing Cell of the Quality Engineering and System Assurance Directorate at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command - Armaments Center.

Topics: Defense Department

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