In 2016, the DoD—with support from America Makes and Deloitte—published their Additive Manufacturing (AM) Roadmap. This document provided a framework for the collaboration and coordination of the DoD’s activities. As part of this framework, several initiatives were deemed critical for the successful transition of AM within the DoD. Two of these initiatives, data management/security, and processes, are being addressed in several ways by NCMS, the CTMA Program, and the Additive Manufacturing for Maintenance Operations (AMMO) Working Group. The implications for this technology crosses all Services, and as the DoD explores new opportunities there is an expectation of a direct impact on warfighter and materiel readiness.
Prior to the publication of the AM Roadmap, NCMS helped organize the first AMMO Working Group. This DoD-sponsored organization was chartered to develop an integrated strategic vision and facilitate collaborative tactical implementation of AM technology in support of DoD’s global weapons system maintenance enterprise. Government and industry collaborate to develop AM business model Imagine soldiers being able to print specialized parts in the field, or a technician manufacturing a replacement for a faulty engine part for an Abrams tank with the click of a few buttons, or even a young recruit creating parts on-demand for legacy equipment that has all but disappeared from the manufacturer’s shelves. These scenarios may seem like science fiction, but in reality, they are already happening. AM, a technology that builds 3D objects by adding layer upon layer, is in early stages in the military, and the possibilities on the near horizon are boundless.
More than ten years ago, the Navy began investigating AM at the laboratory level, but now the technology has begun to filter down to deployment. Beginning in 2012, engineers attached to deployed troops in Afghanistan have been exploring how 3D printing can help on the battlefield. Since 2016, the Marine Corps has authorized the purchase and use of 3D printers in combat zones, making items such as surgical splints, masks, and other non-lethal supplies. The Marine Corps has just completed their first construction project using AM technology—a barracks hut.
“We believe, in the Marine Corps, that [AM] will disrupt, in a positive way, how we conduct our logistics in combat, deployment, and in peacetime,” says Colonel Howard K. Marotto II, Next Generation Logistics (NexLog), Deputy Director, Additive Manufacturing and Innovation for the Marine Corps. “We want to be leaders in the world in the way we use AM to enhance our capability to sustain our forces and defeat our adversaries.”
With the sweeping implications that AM brings, the DoD chartered the AMMO Working Group to support the DoD’s maintenance mission of sustaining materiel readiness at best cost. This includes integrated AM technology collaboration, planning, and resourcing across the DoD maintenance enterprise to include both organic and commercial sources of repair and their associated stakeholders.
“[AM] poses its own unique business implications and aspects that need to be explored and developed in lockstep with the technical development of AM capabilities,” says Greg Kilchenstein, ODASD-MPP and the Co-Chair of AMMO. “The AMMO Working Group is designed to leverage commercial off-the-shelf technology and capitalize on best business practices and lessons learned while standardizing policy and procedures for use of AM technology.”
With a farsighted approach, the AMMO Working Group (which includes NCMS, the DoD, industry, and academia, along with America Makes) conducted Business Model Wargames I, an exercise that used the real-life scenario of a crashed drone as the basis for this business model. This was followed by Wargames II, which was held for two days last spring at the Lockheed Martin Corporation-Global Vision Center in Arlington, VA. This event investigated opportunities and approaches for implementing the AM business model that included existing opportunities and gaps in the maintenance and sustainment realm. The purpose of these wargames was to investigate the robustness of the business model for AM and lay the groundwork for future considerations involving AM capabilities.
While this exercise was far from a game, certain “moves” were incorporated to replicate the likely forward motions of a business plan. Each move had clear objectives and deliverables such as producing a contract framework, identifying key partners and technical approaches, and several others. Based on their assigned business models, each team pinpointed specific findings.
The 97 participants in Wargames II were experts in contract administration, intellectual property (IP) law, enterprise IT, logistics, and program management, and were placed into teams that encompassed three current DoD business models: Buy-Out, Loaner, and Contractor Supplied Commercial Logistics Support. The fourth model, Netflix, or pay-as-you-go IP arrangement, is a business model currently under consideration at DoD.
The Business Model Wargames II exercise explored important details of the contracting process such as: IP, technology data packages, pricing, security, training, certification, warranties, liabilities, and other issues that could fit within the current and anticipated needs to support the warfighter. The exercise highlighted some complex issues and impasses. It also assisted in the design of potential solutions. The amount of collaboration between government and industry participants was a unique opportunity with a technology undergoing rapid development.
“This was a very collaborative exercise to identify and address non-technical issues that needed to be resolved to support the agility anticipated from [AM]. Potential benefits included the development of agile acquisition and contracting approaches that support warfighter requirements for distributed AM for appropriate parts in deployed and depot operations. This effort addressed value chain gaps in America Makes and DoD AM Roadmaps,” says Dr. Marilyn Gaska, Chair of the Additive Manufacturing for Maintenance and Sustainment Advisory Group at America Makes and a Lockheed Martin Fellow.
“With the future needs of the DoD in mind and the opportunities that AM offers, it is critical that the business aspects are considered in lockstep with the advances in technology. The maintenance and sustainment community has a vested interest in this new technology and should be at the forefront of investigating an equalized working plan that addresses the needs of all involved,” says Debra Lilu, CTMA Program Director at NCMS.
AM technology will change what it means to be a soldier. With on-demand 3D printing capability, solutions to unique situations can be addressed right on the battlefield. “Having the ability to customize equipment—such as drones—on the battlefield will help us remove our reliance on foreign manufacturers. It also empowers our Marines to come up with their own solutions to unique challenges, completely changing the battlefield paradigm,” says Marotto.
Knowing that AM is becoming more prevalent in commercial and military uses, Marotto is confident that many incoming Marines will be familiar with the technology but anticipates that the Marine Corps will institute a day-long course to expose all troops to it. There are plans to create Makerspaces, with all kinds of equipment such as 3D printers, CNC machines, cutters, carpentry tools, and even sewing machines, at the depots and bases, open to all Marines, civilian base personnel, and their families, to encourage creativity and problem solving.
“This technology is moving so quickly and we have so much to learn,” says Marotto. “We are just scratching the surface with what AM can do for us both on the battlefield and for humanitarian missions.”
While the games may be over, the fun has just begun. An AM Wargames Workshop is scheduled for May 30-31 and will be held again at Lockheed Martin-Global Vision Center. The workshop will include four sub-working groups that will focus on guidance for:
• AM contracting
• Writing requirements for AM manufactured items
• Securing the digital thread
• Conducting a real-time end-to-end pathfinder for requiring AM hardware
AM is only as good as the veracity of its information. The DoD is taking a hard look at using blockchain technology to answer those security needs.
The DoD looks at blockchain to make AM secure
AM depends on digital files to tell the printing mechanism what to do. The finished state of the printed item can only be as good as the digital instructions the printer receives. As the military begins to use AM for time-of-need, point-of-use parts fabrication, the delivery and security of those digital files becomes paramount.
One of the most promising technologies for ensuring the integrity of digital files and securely delivering them from the file developer all the way to the end user is called blockchain. In essence, blockchain is a distributed database that maintains a continuously growing list of ordered records called blocks. Each block contains a timestamp and a link to a previous block. By design, blockchains are inherently resistant to modifications of data—once recorded, the data in a block cannot be altered retroactively. The technology has taken on many different forms and has had many distinct applications, but the underlying concept of all blockchain-based systems is similar. The chain of tamper-proof records on which blockchain is based keeps the data it transmits secure.
The DoD is planning to test the AM and blockchain system using a few identified parts. Moog Inc. is one of the industry partners testing the blockchain technology alongside the DoD. They are providing the blockchain-enabled process and secure files for the parts being used for this demonstration.
“To ensure a successful build of a part we must know that all qualifications and specifications are met. Parts must be authenticated to ensure they aren’t counterfeit and that no one has disrupted the files. Everything comes down to distributed trust,” says Jim Regenor, Business Unit Director at Moog Inc.’s Aircraft Group and a former U.S. Air Force pilot.
With blockchain, all parts are traceable, the provenance is known, and users can see the full lifecycle of the part. Printers will be certified and cybersecurity risks can be nearly eliminated.
There are two levels of blockchain security transactions: the actual verified files that one might think of as a train that brings the parts, and the tracks (or the method of transporting the files) that ensure the train gets to where it needs to go safely. Adding data and process integrity and an infrastructure assurance is the key to effective blockchain.
“If this demonstration is successful, and the DoD is pleased, then this process may be implemented into the government infrastructure and they can use AM to its fullest extent,” says Jeffrey Schrader, Chief Financial Officer for Guardtime Federal. Guardtime is the industry partner providing the infrastructure assurance to the blockchain system, Keyless Signature Infrastructure (KSI). “Blockchain technology is like having a birth certificate with a hospital record attached to it. Our unique approach to blockchain technology provides the forensic level data integrity DoD decision- makers need to secure the digital thread of AM.”
NCMS’ CTMA Program is the vehicle that is facilitating the blockchain demonstration to the DoD. Understanding that the DoD cannot use commercial off-the-shelf components to ensure the safety of the warfighters, NCMS project managers have brought together industry and government stakeholders to develop a supply chain system that eliminates system vulnerabilities.
“Blockchain is an elegant solution. It will address the concerns of securing the digital thread of AM,” says Steven Dobesh, Commander, USN, Technology & Innovation Branch Chief, the Joint Chiefs of Staff –J4. “I think this is the best answer to the important issue of traceability and provenance. We must have the same level of confidence when we pull a part off the printer that we currently have when we pull a physical part off the shelf. Blockchain will help us achieve this through an append-only immutable ledger of transactions.”
With new technology comes disruption in the culture, thinking, and supply chain of the DoD maintenance and sustainment communities. AM, using blockchain security is just this kind of disruption. There is still a lot to learn and the uses may be limitless. The DoD embraces technologies that can save costs and enhance warfighter readiness and NCMS will collaborate in this project every step of the way.