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Defense Applications Key to Proving AM Capabilities

Defense sits apart from other applications areas because of the unique situations additive manufacturing (AM) can impact. Speed of production, lightweighting and supply chain management are important for many sectors, in defense it really can be life or death. While applications areas are nascent, integration of AM into production of materiel presents opportunities and challenges that the defense sector is uniquely positioned to explore, and those findings will ultimately feed into civilian applications.

Sensors and sensing 

With fleets of complex machinery, weapons and surveillance systems that often have to operate for many decades, and be operated in exceptionally hostile environments at forward operating locations, production of spare and replacement parts is a key driver of adoption of AM into the defense sector. The ability to make parts in theater at the point of need allows warfighters to repair equipment without the need to have spare parts in tow, presenting a distinct advantage over adversaries. Shipping feedstock rather than finished parts significantly reduces supply chain complexity, resulting in greater supply chain stability.

Check Chris Crowley and Sheri Thorn’s overview of AM in extreme environments
Wednesday, May 3 @ 11:00 am
Additive Materials in Extreme Environments
Chris Crowley Aerospace + Defense Industry Lead, Formlabs
Sheri Thorn
Aerospace Engineer, NASA

Sensors and sensing 

The growing adoption of body-borne and wearable electronic systems for warfighters can be expanded across multiple lines including realtime battlefield tracking, airborne threats through chemical and biological sensors, medical and physiological monitoring, connected feedback systems and more. AM can play a role in cost-effectively producing a number of sensor technologies both pre-deployment and from forward operating locations. Multimaterial AM, along with additively manufactured electronics, can provide flexible sensors with ability to withstand the rigors of training and combat. Remote drug delivery and therapeutics is also being explored.

Energetic materials  

Energetic materials(EMs), being any material capable of releasing energy from its molecular structure, are commonly used as propellants, explosives and pyrotechnics in defense applications. By their natures EMs tend to be difficult to process and traditional techniques can produce only limited geometries. AM’s complex geometry creation and ability to manufacture with hard to process materials opens up research opportunities within EMs. Through precise control of geometries the characteristics of initiability, detonation velocity, and mechanical properties can be achieved without needing to change the material formulation.

Ballistic resistance 

Ballistic resistance often falls outside the scope of conventional engineering qualification, where materials are more often tested against static or quasi-static regimes of relatively low strain. Where protection from ballistics, other high energy events and micrometeoroid and orbital debris mitigation is required, AM can facilitate significant improvements in structural performance under high strain rate conditions. Optimizing the geometries of personnel or equipment protection systems — for example to absorb or deflect energy — allows enhanced integrity under dynamic loading conditions while using existing materials.

Wednesday, May 3 | Main Stage | 1:00 pm
A Disruption of the Industrial Base: Large-Scale Metal Additive Manufacturing

Keynote Panelist:
Maj. Gen. Darren L. Werner
Commanding General
U.S. Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command

Larry R. Holmes, Jr.
Executive Director
Harrisburg University of Science and Technology

Neal Orringer
President ASTROA
Jeffrey D. Ahrstrom
Chief Executive Officer Ingersoll Machine Tools

Brandon N. Pender
Associate Director
US Army Ground Vehicle Systems Center

Qualification remains a challenge 

Creation of one-offs, prototypes and limited non-structural components remain at the forefront of defense applications thanks to the innate abilities of AM. While AM technologies mature and become increasingly stable, reliable and consistent, qualification and certification remains a challenge. Qualifying materials, processes and parts is a necessary for a more complete adoption in defense applications and tackling challenges of manufacturing critical components. Work on standards continues at pace across the industry and further development here.

Learn more about the DoD’s work in qualification of AM components with Dr. Robert Rhein:
Wednesday, May 3 @ 10:00am
Rapid Qualification of DoD Components
Robert Rhein, PhD
Engineering Specialist, Eaton Corporation