Upkeep of weapons systems and platforms is one of the top priorities and responsibilities of today’s military supply chain providers. But one challenge that the military is facing, with both modern and legacy systems, is whether to repair or completely replace platforms or parts.
When systems and platforms partially or completely break, it can be extremely expensive to repair. And depending on the system, traditional manufacturing methods of parts may require extensive lead times that the military cannot afford. But with today’s advanced manufacturing technologies, such as additive manufacturing and 3D printing, the military is now able to repair and replace systems or parts much cheaper and faster.
To learn more about additive manufacturing and how it is transforming U.S. military supply chains, the GovDesignHub sat down with Jamie Hanson, Vice President of Business Development of Optomec. The company recently announced that it had been awarded a $500,000 process development contract by the Air Force Sustainment Center for the “additive repair” of jet engine components used in the F-15 and F-16 fighters.
Here is what he had to say:
GovDesignHub (GDH): Can you tell our readers what Optomec does? And how the company got its start?
Jamie Hanson: Optomec is a unique and rapidly growing supplier of additive manufacturing solutions for production applications. We develop and supply aerosol jet systems for 3D printed electronics, and Laser Engineered Net Shaping (LENS) and Directed Energy Deposition (DED) machines for producing and repairing high value 3D metal components.
Our technology was developed with the military in mind, thanks in part to early-stage Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) funding.
We now have more than 500 systems installed, at the U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy and NASA, as well as leading global manufacturers such as GE, Raytheon, Lockheed, Samsung, Panasonic and BAE.
GDH: What manufacturing challenges is the military currently facing pertaining to part repair and replacement? How can today’s military and defense supply chains benefit from additive manufacturing? What challenges does it solve or improve upon?
Jamie Hanson: The military has multiple challenges. They are required to repair and replace very old weapons systems and platforms. With many of the original suppliers simply no longer in business, this can drive significant lead times.
Cost is also a significant challenge. Engine components, as an example, can be very expensive. The commercial sector has demonstrated that in many cases part repair is a much better solution than replacement. Optomec has more than 100 systems doing production metal part repair.
I’d say those are the two biggest benefits metal additive manufacturing provides to defense supply chains – cost and lead time improvements.
GDH: Optomec was recently awarded a contract by the Air Force Rapid Sustainment Office (RSO). Can you describe the work that Optomec will be doing with the RSO?
Jamie Hanson: The contract was issued by the RSO, and the repair work will be accomplished at the Air Force Sustainment Center (AFSC) at Tinker Air Force Base.
This contract is focused on providing the Air Force with process repair processes for the additive repair of the F100 engine components. This engine drives the F-15 and F-16 fighters.
“…those are the two biggest benefits metal additive manufacturing provides to defense supply chains – cost and lead time improvements.” -Jamie Hanson
This will be completed with Optomec LENS technology, powder fed DED, our enabling machine capabilities, including advanced vision and distortion compensation software, controlled atmosphere processing and batch automation using oxygen-free material handling.
These processes will be proved out on a system to be delivered to Tinker Air Force Base, our HC-TBR machine.
GDH: It’s been reported that the AFSC project will also entail “printable ‘recipes’ and ‘libraries’ that will be implemented in conjunction with the delivery of an automated Turbine Blade Repair machine with ROI projections of 184 percent.” What exactly are these printable recipes and libraries? And where will that ROI come from? What is that in comparison to? Why is this so much cheaper?
Jamie Hanson: These process recipes help production customers drastically shorten the time for adoption when they implement our solution.
Optomec leverages our decades of DED processing experience and gives the customer a solution that typically saves six months of process development. Optomec has a very well-defined ROI model that we work with customers on. We have looked at both repair versus replace, and repair versus competing technologies, like manual TIG welding. The ROI is extremely compelling.
GDH: In addition to being able to print full 3D parts, Optomec has the capability to add onto existing 3D parts. What types of scenarios would call for the military to use full printing versus adding onto existing materials? What is the benefit of adding onto existing materials?
Jamie Hanson: DED technology enables the military and commercial customers to print full 3D parts, repair existing parts faster and cheaper than other options, and to add metal materials to existing parts.
Powder DED offers the potential to add metal to an existing component with targeted properties that can enhance the performance of the part. An example would be a wear resistant material added to a shaft. Or – getting back to turbine engine repair – multiple metal materials added in one setup to repair a Z-form and seal of an airfoil.
GDH: Are there any exciting military-focused AM projects coming down pike at Optomec that you’d like to share?
Jamie Hanson: Yes, there are! We have several repair projects currently under contract that will enable the military to save millions of dollars and improve warfighter readiness. There are also several projects that have both been approved and are under consideration that will expand our military focused metal additive efforts. Stay tuned!
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