USAF takes innovative approach to 3D printing with Advanced Manufacturing Olympics

Following the news that the United States Air Force (USAF) has initiated a competition on 3D printing called the “Advanced Manufacturing Olympics,” with the amount of US$1m being offered in prizes;

Stelios Kanavakis, Defense Analyst at GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, offers his view:

“This latest initiative from the USAF is a positive sign that the service continues to improve its platforms’ support and the supply chain. This effort is becoming increasingly important in light of COVID-19, which had a serious impact on the defense supply chain, resulting in delays in the deliveries of new equipment and support services.

“The USAF has been using 3D printed parts for some time now. Last year, Lockheed Martin produced a 3D printed part for an F-22 fighter aircraft, while more recently a USAF Airman helped 3D print a valve for the C-130J Super Hercules. However, this time, through the Advanced Manufacturing Olympics, the USAF is broadening the horizons by inviting startups, non-traditional DoD suppliers and the academia to present their innovations.

“Additive manufacturing will allow the USAF, and every other user that employs this technique, to reduce the cost of supporting platforms, even in the field, and improve their availability. Such costs are increasing as platforms become older, posing a serious source of consideration in the case of platforms such as the B-52, which started flying 68 years ago.

“The USAF’s AMO will test new technologies, materials and processes to produce more accurate parts with fewer materials and in a shorter period of time, either with the design available or with reverse engineering and scanning being required; with materials that offer better strength and ease of use; by using processes and materials that can be quickly qualified by the government bodies for their trustworthiness; and by decentralizing production, thus revolutionizing the supply chain.

“Ultimately, these innovations will allow the USAF to accelerate the tempo of operations, increase its firepower through more efficient use of its fleet and reduce the logistical footprint, while also being less prone to external risks such as the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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