Keeping the warfighter supplied with equipment, resources, and even parts for repairing weapons and vehicles are all key to successful missions. If a supply line is compromised, the mission is at risk. Keeping everything our troops need on-the-ready through advanced manufacturing (AM) was the key focus of the U.S. Air Force’s inaugural Advanced Manufacturing Olympics (AMO), held in October.
The Air Force’s Rapid Sustainment Office (RSO) hosted the event, which brought together keynote speakers from across the public sector, AM professionals from private industry partners, and airmen focused on supplying troops with what they need for mission success for a multi-day event focused on the use of AM for meeting military procurement and acquisition requirements
Nathan Parker, Deputy Program Executive Officer for the RSO, was key to organizing and producing the AMO which, Secretary of the Air Force, Barbara Barrett, touted as, “…an ecosystem where industry and government can cross-pollinate, exchanging ideas to accelerate innovation…”
The GovDesignHub recently sat down with Nathan to discuss the event, the state of AM in the military, and the hopes for AM to help keep our troops supplied across the globe.
Here’s what he had to say:
GovDesignHub (GDH): The recent AMO 2020 was quite a stunning inaugural event for the U.S. Air Force and the RSO. Can you tell me the vision behind this event? How did it come about? And, what was your role in it?
Nathan Parker: The RSO led the execution of the AMO from creation of the technical challenges, to programming selections, to production. The vision for AMO was established by Dr. Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, who saw the potential in bringing together the manufacturing ecosystem in a competitive, gamesman-like environment.
Dr. Roper’s vision was to use the Olympics to both bring together the broader ecosystem and to quickly find technology and process solutions.
GDH: What are the key takeaways from this event? How do you think it will carry the mission of the RSO forward?
Nathan Parker: There are several key takeaways from the event. First, the manufacturing ecosystem is highly motivated and eager to work in a collaborative environment. What made AMO so successful was the energy and enthusiasm of all attendees, especially the 239 technical challenge participants.
Our data shows that AMO attendees remained engaged in our virtual event hub on average for 3-6 hours per day. That’s tremendous in the virtual conference environment.
The second takeaway is AMO successfully accelerated the RSO’s mission to broaden its reach amongst companies and organizations with which the RSO does not typically engage – often referred to as non-traditional defense companies. We had sixty-two companies represented at AMO including some traditional but mostly non-traditional defense organizations. We also had eleven universities represented.
One of the biggest benefits of AMO was building an Air Force AM ecosystem and making connections with seventy-three entities we weren’t previously working with and gaining valuable insight into what technology, materials, or processes they have to offer the Air Force sustainment enterprise.
GDH: One big emphasis for the AMO was partnerships between the military, academia, and industry. What do you see as the future of such partnerships? How will these impact our governmental and military agencies?
Nathan Parker: The RSO has put mechanisms in place, like our Commercial Solutions Opening, to harness the true potential of startups, academia, and aerospace and defense innovative technologies.
Traditional Air Force acquisition processes do not typically lend themselves to speed, however, the Air Force and the RSO have taken purposeful steps to enable speed wherever possible. Codifying these partnerships as quickly as we can is critical to getting emerging capabilities into the warfighter’s hands.
GDH: What barriers do you see for advanced manufacturing to drive sustainment? How can these be overcome?
Nathan Parker: AMO’s five technical challenges were all built around five barriers we must overcome to scale this technology.
The Technical Data Package Relay focused on the length of time it takes to build the necessary technical data to produce a part. The Box of Parts challenge went after new ways we can more quickly re-engineer a part that we have little to no technical data on.
Those are just a few examples of what the RSO focused on at AMO to deal with the most pressing barriers to adoption of AM.
GDH: What is on the horizon, the cutting edge, of advanced manufacturing? And, how could these help the military and its global (and beyond) mission?
We’re limited in what we can print today due to the size of our machines. Having the ability to print a large-scale aircraft assembly would help the military more quickly get planes back in the air.
GDH: How does AM’s prominence in sustainment shape the personnel needs for the U.S. Air Force going forward?
Nathan Parker: As the RSO continues to scale AM, we will be evaluating second and third-order effects. For example, training personnel with these new technologies is definitely something we will need to take into account and plan for as we deploy AM.