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FCW : June 15, 2016
Numerical controlled production goes back decades. It was most often applied to creating and machining complex metal parts and components. These were produced in large quantities in classic industrial environments. Now 3D printing brings that caliber of production—directly from digital files—to places where manufacturing was never before possible such as design workgroups or research teams. It can also scale economically to production quantities. Call it 3D printing, call it additive manufacturing; by any name, it’s transforming fields as diverse as biological engineering and aircraft part production. Fields like that require precise tolerances in component production, which digital 3D printing provides. They also have significant degrees of flexibility and versatility, since 3D printer output is generated directly from digital files you can instantly edit or revise as needed. There are several factors that make the latest generation of 3D printing transformative: One can present an astonishing array of materials to the additive process. These include thermoplastics for fused deposition modeling, photopolymers from rubber-like substances, and hard-as-a-rock and high temperature polymers. 3D printer can also render materials suitable for use in the human body, such as dental or skeletal parts. 3D printers can create parts that are immediately ready for the assembly line, complete with multiple colors that obviate the need for post-production painting or screen printing. The color won’t wear off, saving down-the-line maintenance or errors from rubbed-away printing. 3D printing—and available 3D equipment—can generate prototypes, production parts and the crafting to tools used in making other parts. At one time, this wide range of applications required different processes and even different suppliers. And the range of available printing devices available has expanded to the point where agencies can precisely match their materials, volumes, and budget parameters to the ideal price. Federal agencies have typically contracted out most of their complex parts manufacturing. But now they can bring it in house under their direct control or use a hybrid approach, prototyping in house and hiring a contractor for volume. In this way, 3D printing is suitable for myriad projects. 3D Printing and Federal Missions The federal government is primarily a knowledge business. The primary missions and activities of most federal agencies are printing policies, rules, regulations and legislation. Further thinking, however, reveals a wide field of manufacturing activities in which government agencies are engaged—or would make if they had efficient means of doing so. In the armed services and their ancillary agencies, there’s a constant need to prototype, test and replace or improve parts for the Defense Department’s thousands of hardware platforms. For example, there are often requirements for older components still in use on aircraft such as H-53 helicopters. Given the inventory of roughly 200 units, their age dating back to the 1970s, and the fact they require an almost non-stop supply of updates and replacements, in-house 3D printing has the potential to speed up prototyping and testing, and lowering production and maintenance costs. At such facilities as the Fleet Readiness Center East, part of Naval Air Systems Command, there is 1.6 million square feet of manufacturing floor to support a variety of new and old airframes. Using 3D printers in such a large space would be well-suited to support such diverse component requirements for dozens if not hundreds of different types of aircraft. The DOD’s many research and development branches also require fabricated parts for testing in future systems in simulation, first aid and in medical prosthetic devices. Outside of the DOD, there is a broad array of civilian agencies that require or ExEcutivE insights: 3D Printing Modern Manufacturing Comes to Federal Agencies 3D printing is emerging as the answer for many complex government production and prototyping projects.
May 30, 2016
June 30, 2016