WEST BETHESDA, Md. —
Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division teamed with the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) to demonstrate 21 additively-manufactured parts to explore the "art of the possible" during the Modern Day Marine (MDM) Expo at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, Sept. 27-29.
This demonstration, directed by Marine Lt. Gen. Michael Dana, deputy commandant for Installations and Logistics (I&L), and funded by I&L Department, showcased how this emerging technology can influence parts obsolescence risks, long lead times, and early failure challenges. The I&L department leveraged the Department of the Navy additive manufacturing (AM) community and worked with the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) Technology Office and Carderock to plan and execute the project. Jonathan Hopkins, a member of the Carderock AM team, serves as engineering manager to the USMC AM demonstrations and played a lead role in coordination for Modern Day Marine.
"They needed a subject matter expert to coordinate the effort across the different commands," Hopkins said. "When we heard about this potential opportunity, we immediately wanted to take part and do it as collaboratively as possible."
Hopkins' role involved reviewing recommended parts, components, tools and training submitted by operating forces, Marine Corps Systems Command (MCSC) and Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) to make recommendations on parts for logistics, ground, and aviation combat systems. In addition, the parts are reviewed and assessed to make sure they can legally be printed by the government, using criteria including business-case operation impact and legal parameters.
"These are parts that came to us; they were recommended by Marines and people in program offices who said, 'With these parts, it would be really helpful if we could figure out a way to print these so we can be more agile and not have to store them, but be able to print them on demand as needed,'" Hopkins said. "We don't want to turn into manufacturers, but there are instances when you can't afford to be as operationally ready as you need to be because one part failed. And if you have the capability to print that part in theater, you know, that's a game-changer."
Marine Maj. Brad Goldvarg of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL) gave an example of that in one of the parts on display at the expo, a pin for one of the USMC utilized radios. Goldvarg said this part costs more than $75 when purchased from the original equipment manufacturer and can take a long time to reach the person who needs it, but the proposed version on showcase at the expo can be printed in 37 minutes for a cost of $1.22.
"This one pin going down renders the entire radio inoperable, and not having a radio is a huge shortfall for an operating unit," Goldvarg said. "This part is the exact same thing; if a unit has the ability to print this part and it can bring a radio back to being operational in 37 minutes, why not? Therefore, this becomes very critical to our operations."
"If you look at the printer we have here, it's a $1,200 printer," Goldvarg continued. "It's a very small, simple printer that could fit on any desk. It doesn't need to be complicated. Can I see this printer on a shipboard environment, where a Marine can call back to the ship and request a replacement for the radio pin and have it within the next 12-24 hours instead of waiting weeks, and in some cases months, for the exact same thing at a much higher cost? Potentially, yes!"
Other parts on display included a radio battery latch, an 18,000 lb.-capacity HMMWV tow hook bracket and safety critical AM parts for the MV-22 Osprey. In addition to the long lead time, limited source of supply and early failure challenges addressed by the radio pin, other areas addressed by these parts include the potential to use alternate materials and address early failure challenges and obsolescence risks.
"We have a lot of parts for aging platforms that we either can't get ordered in a timely fashion or simply cannot buy at all," Hopkins said. "So those are parts we can reverse engineer and create through additive manufacturing. Another category is alternate materials where, for example, we can take a part that was originally metal, and due to the environment it is used in, it doesn't actually have to be metal."
Goldvarg said the production of these parts wouldn't have been possible without the collaboration and efforts of all those involved -- Carderock and NAVSEA, NAVAIR, I&L, MCWL, MCSC, the operating forces who provided input and other Marines like Marine Sgt. Stephen Cook, an amateur hobbyist 3-D printer who attended the demonstration to share his knowledge on the topic with other Marines, as well as gain some for himself.
"I deal with plastics and rubbers mainly," said Cook, a legal services specialist from Walla Walla, Washington assigned to Headquarters Marine Corps, Judge Advocate Division. "The way they're putting metal over these plastics and different types of nylons is quite new to me. I've never seen it before in my life."
Cook spoke at the expo about one of his home projects, a prosthetic he made for his 3-year-old brother who had part of one of his arms amputated at birth.
"My family can't afford a prosthetic, and they won't be able to afford replacements, so I printed him off a prosthetic," Cook said. "Since he likes Iron Man, I made it look like Iron Man's arm. People around the office heard about me doing this, and somebody met somebody who met somebody, which would be Capt. Christopher Wood (I&L Lead for AM). I got a hold of him, we met up and now I'm here.
"I also showed him a few of the other things I'm working on, such as a remotely-operated submarine with a live-feed camera and sound," Cook added. "You can't get one that's less than $5,000 right now; I can make it for under $100. I love this stuff."
Goldvarg said while AM is still in its infancy, everyone involved in the expo is addressing the legitimate concerns people have in its implementation, like the qualification/certification process and training required, the different equipment involved, and the environments it is done in. He said the demonstrations have been very helpful in laying out this vision to the decision makers in attendance.
"We are learning what we don't know," Goldvarg said. "People like MCSC and NAVAIR, those are the people that have to ask the right questions and lay out the process, from printing to development of the tech data package all the way through supply system integration. That is the next evolution of this."
"In terms of maintenance officers, battalion commanders and people at that level, they've been extremely receptive and their eyes are getting opened to not just things like parts and tools, but they're asking, 'What else is within the realm of the possible?'" Goldvarg continued. "And there are enormous things you can do with additive manufacturing."