In April of this year, it was announced that the U.S. Army would be working with ASTRO America and other industry partners on a truly revolutionary advanced manufacturing program – the Jointless Hull Project. This program involves the development of the hardware, software and technologies necessary to effectively “print” a vehicle structure.
On paper, that may not sound like a particularly exciting or unique use case for 3D printing and advanced manufacturing. However, it is a challenging undertaking that will require the massive upsizing of existing solutions and technologies that – if successful – could truly revolutionize how the military builds their vehicles and weapons systems.
To learn more about the Jointless Hull Project, the challenges that it faces, and how successful completion of the project could change military manufacturing well into the future, we sat down with Aaron LaLonde, PhD, an Additive Manufacturing Subject Matter Expert at the United States Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) Ground Vehicle Systems Center (GVCS).
Here is what he had to say:
GovDesignHub (GDH): Where is the Army – and the rest of the DoD – when it comes to the adoption of advanced and additive manufacturing technologies? Are additive manufacturing programs still being assessed and analyzed, or has additive manufacturing gained widespread acceptance and adoption across the DoD?
Aaron LaLonde: The Army is very interested and invested in evaluating advanced and additive manufacturing technologies and has many active programs.
As additive manufacturing technologies have a wide range of capabilities and maturity, we continue to assess and analyze additive manufacturing with adoption and acceptance occurring and as part of the strategy as we continue to make progress.
GDH: Why do you think it’s important that the Army embrace additive and advanced manufacturing? How can these technologies improve and streamline operations for the military?
Aaron LaLonde: Additive manufacturing is an advanced manufacturing capability that has the potential to provide and enable value, improvement, and capability improvement across several important areas of priority.
With active efforts on advanced manufacturing and new capabilities, we are able to continue improving capabilities and performance. Embracing additive and advanced manufacturing will impact and provide advancement in many areas that would otherwise remain on traditional improvement paths.
GDH: You’re currently leading a program called the Jointless Hull Project. Can you tell our readers a bit about this program and what you’re looking to accomplish with this? Why is the Jointless Hull an improvement for the military when it comes to the manufacturing of land vehicles?
Aaron LaLonde: The initial goal of the Jointless Hull Project is to create a tool with the capability to create parts with sizes that are relevant to vehicle structures, expanding our size envelope beyond current machine build volumes.
Once the tool is created, we are looking to realize benefits across multiple areas of priority, including improvements in manufacturing efficiency and the supply chain, reduction of manufacturing cost, and innovative design concepts aimed at improving performance. The tool will be a DoD-wide asset that will be able to be utilized by all services to enable applications, uses and value that will meet the needs of each user.
“Embracing additive and advanced manufacturing will impact and provide advancement in many areas that would otherwise remain on traditional improvement paths.” – Aaron LaLonde”
GDH: What new technology tools will the Army and its partners need to create to make the Jointless Hull a reality? What challenges, limitations and obstacles will you all need to overcome?
Aaron LaLonde: As the project will integrate and enable additive manufacturing technology at a scale that has not been done before, the team is prepared to deal with the challenges that will be realized as we progress the technology to vehicle scale parts.
We anticipate some revisions of the tool and process as we increase the size and scale of the parts that we make and the techniques and strategies needed to be successful.
GDH: In the long run, what role do you see advanced and additive manufacturing playing across the DoD? Will this be a technology that is relied upon to fill one-off product or part replacements, or do you envision wider adoption and mass manufacturing of parts and products via additive manufacturing?
Aaron LaLonde: Across all industries, additive manufacturing technologies are still developing and finding the best use for end users on a continually evolving path of adoption. As our activities continue and our capabilities advance, we expect that the best fit between additive technologies and the value provided will be determined.
In the foreseeable future, additive and advanced manufacturing will be an instance of ‘the right tool for the job’, rather than a technology or manufacturing capability completely replacing current methods.
GDH: What’s next after the Jointless Hull? What other large projects, programs or challenges can you see advanced manufacturing contributing to in the coming years? What other non-traditional use cases do you see for the technology outside of vehicle and replacement parts?
Aaron LaLonde: The Jointless Hull Project is a very large and significant effort that is going to require time and focus to enable success at the vehicle size scale. ‘What’s next’ related to the Jointless Hull Project is the follow-on efforts to continue down the path of application and capability development and integration and successfully manufacturing large parts.
Additionally, we are thinking about ‘What’s next’ for the machine and the capability itself and what the advancement in the machine capability will look like to increase efficiency of the additive manufacturing process component and the overall machine capability.
“In the foreseeable future, additive and advanced manufacturing will be an instance of ‘the right tool for the job’, rather than a technology or manufacturing capability completely replacing current methods.” -Aaron LaLonde
GDH: We’re continuing to hear additive manufacturing discussed in combination to – or in conjunction with – generative design. Is generative design something that the Army is currently researching or utilizing? If not, is it something that you could see them begin to implement in the future? What benefits could generative design and AI in design yield for the Army?
Aaron LaLonde: Yes, generative design is something that is currently being considered and explored in conjunction with the advancement of different additive technologies that are required for various applications. The various additive technologies are at different stages with enabling generative design concepts and we will continue to assess and consider the relevant applications.
Improving the design process, decreasing manufacturing time and cost, decreasing material consumption, reducing weight, and improving performance are all aspects of generative design that we are interested in enabling and realizing.