NCMS: Fueling Our Nation’s Supply Chain Resiliency

Core to the mission of the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS) is to increase US manufacturing competitiveness through the acceleration and transition of innovation. We work across the industrial base to identify transformative technology to close gaps within supply chains. The ability to affordably and rapidly innovate are essential for our nation’s growth and protection through our warfighter’s readiness. By strengthening the supply chain with new or non-traditional sources, we increase our resiliency and expand our manufacturing capabilities and flexibility to respond to the ever-growing complexity of our industrial landscape.

The pandemic certainly put our nation and the world through the ultimate supply-chain test. The ongoing domino effect of basic products’ single-sourced reliance culminated in a clog of logistical challenges. A stark reminder that at its base, a supply chain is just that, a chain of events and actions, and it includes all the interconnecting steps for stitching together engineering, manufacturing, and delivery at minimum. Successful innovation also relies on this cycle, so reimagining it could help reinvent how we address the supply chain and rapidly implement new capabilities into the process.

Strengthening the US supply chain and our global competitive stance is driven by the vertical integration of capabilities across our nation. Historically, large original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) were highly vertically integrated from the production of specialty piece parts through final assembly, test, and delivery. As the complexity of products increased over time, specifications were sourced externally to organizations with the technology know-how. With the need to reduce costs, as factory equipment and modifications can be expensive, the practice continued, along with an increasing incorporation of existing supplier off-the-shelf items into designs. This evolution brought us to where we are today—managing highly expansive and widespread supply chains requiring receiving and shipping departments to be adept at global regulations for maintaining the flow of our goods and services. Expediting increasingly became our focus.

Investing in our nation’s capabilities shifts us towards innovation, as it has us look at technology and needs from new perspectives. It provides an opportunity to apply new methods, such as qualifying products both virtually and physically for quick insertion into the supply chain. Rather than treating the industrial base as a supply series of horizontal sequentially overlapping steps, it can be turned vertically, depicting interconnected, concurrent layers of disciplines—design for the product, manufacturing, delivery, maintenance, security, and logistics. It is the parallel application of all the disciplines throughout a product’s life cycle that changes our system’s view and technical baseline needs.

Applying a systems engineering approach for integrating the multi-disciplinary layers requires upfront visualization of the supply chain in the overall design strategy. It redefines the technical baseline to include information such as: manufacturing alternatives, system margins for inspection, criteria for fielded part repairs, and data to make the necessary trades in support of the repair and dispositioning process. Systems and design take on a logistical view as the routing of components and assemblies can introduce new external challenges to a once internally controlled process. Interweaving of this multidimensional data entails many enabling technologies.

Digitalization plays a key role in capturing the many facets of the supply cycle and contextually embedding the data back into the baseline as information. And although digitalization traverses the full life cycle, it is fueled by data to ensure what is being digitalized has a purpose. Incorporating Internet of Things and predictive data analytics becomes crucial to upfront decision-making for what to capture and why through continuous modeling and simulation. Establishing a progressive digital thread based upon the scenarios provides traceability to the necessary quality controls of the processes themselves. These form a critical juncture for evaluating manufacturing alternatives and supply sources.

The overall robustness of a supply chain can only be as effective as that of manufacturing and test yields. Lower yields lengthen lead time and reduce responsiveness—both of which are disruptors to readiness. First-time-through test yields drive what, how, and where manufacturing takes place, because this cumulatively effects availability. Monitoring yield changes with artificial intelligence across the supply base and modeling the data with predictive methods help optimize flow and quality while eliminating bottlenecks. They identify the trades to make for sourcing flexibility.

Borrowing from DOD maintenance and sustainment (M&S) repair practices can provide insights into reimagining our supply chain. Examine it through its use of distributed processes to support product evaluation, disassembly, repair, reassembly, integration, test, and delivery. It is a reverse view of traditional manufacturing. And where manufacturing focuses on leaning out processes and reducing costs, repairs look to increasing readiness and reducing logistics. Quality and cost are essential considerations for both manufacturing and repairs, but the repair process entails a continuous cycle of transport by ship-ping products back and forth between technical resources. New perspectives for manufacturing can be gained from the depot operations.

The M&S community also regularly moves across generations of products and technologies, further adding to initial test and evaluation of returned assets. They are masters of balancing legacy equipment with new technologies and running through a decision-making process to minimize turnaround time and increase readiness. Learning from their resourcefulness offers our industrial base more supply choices. Engaging legacy capabilities in support of new technologies could introduce more processing steps. Also, embracing hybrid manufacturing with the application of artificial intelligence can bring about endless manufacturing possibilities, resulting in increased supply chain robustness and flexibility. These goals certainly need protecting, as security is only as good as the cumulative supply chain itself.

NCMSʼs partners are leaders in providing innovative solutions for our M&S community. In doing so, it is common for numerous industry and academic organizations to collaborate on solving some of the most complex technological problems. Many initiatives have the participants coming together in the form of a supply chain, which significantly increases the likelihood of success for transitioning technology to our maintainers and warfighters. Your demonstrated collaboration with each other to accelerate innovation is a testament to our nation’s ability to build a top performing and resilient supply chain. And your willingness to rapidly recombine into various partnerships is the realization of a supply network at its best.

NCMS was once again proud to sponsor two CTMA Technology Competition awards in 2021 for your commitment to the mission. These awards are one of many ways we celebrate your ingenuity. Likewise, this year’s CTMA Magazine has reached a milestone 10th anniversary publication. The content of the magazines over the years reflects the extraordinary advances that you have contributed to increasing materiel readiness and global security.

In 2022, we had the honor to welcome Mr. Steve McKee, Director of Enterprise Maintenance Technologies in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Materiel Readiness (ODASD–MR), as our Department of Defense government partner for CTMA. Leading Steve and the entire ODASD–MR is our Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Materiel Readiness, Dr. Vic S. Ramdass. We are excited to be working with them. Our liaison Steve holds a long-standing passion for bringing state-of-the-art technology to our M&S and warfighter community. He is relentless in the pursuit of providing the most advanced, innovative options while expanding sources in the process. We look forward to further accelerating innovation with Steve’s leadership to accomplish our nation’s readiness mission.