UAH has role in helping Army adopt additive manufacturing

Joe Paxton is the lead for UAH’s role in a program to integrate additive manufacturing into the U.S. Army.

Michael Mercier | UAH

The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) Office for Operational Excellence (OOE) has a role in a recently funded program to integrate additive manufacturing into the United States Army and pilot an additive manufacturing-based supply chain.

Additive manufacturing is the process of making a three-dimensional solid object from a digital model.

As a collaborator with the Pennsylvania-based National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM), UAH received a portion of the $3.7 million in funding used to launch NCDMM’s Additive Manufacturing NOW (AMNOW) program. The OOE is an office of the university’s Research Institute.

“AMNOW is designed to help the Army reap the benefits of additive manufacturing,” says Joe Paxton, OOE director. He says additive manufacturing’s benefits include shorter project lead times, lighter weight parts, nearly limitless design capabilities and the potential for lower costs.

Structured as a potentially multi-phase, multi-year contract, AMNOW is funded by the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (CDCC) – Aviation & Missile Center, through the U.S. Army Manufacturing Science and Technology (MS&T) Division, under the newly formed U.S. Army Futures Command. NCDMM is in partnership for the contract with Catalyst Connection, a Pittsburgh, Pa., privately held nonprofit organization.

“AMNOW is working to evaluate the ability of the additive manufacturing industrial base to support the Army and to ultimately put any missing pieces in place to pilot a robust and secure additive manufacturing supply chain for the Army,” Paxton says.

“Some areas of focus are evaluating the readiness of additive manufacturing suppliers to support the Army, evaluating the ability of processes within the Army to source additive manufacturing parts and putting in any missing pieces for a pilot.”

Challenges include the need to securely and digitally transmit and process Dept. of Defense design data, obtaining complete design data to use to source parts, ensuring the ability to validate that the final part matches the exact design that was provided and standardization of material properties within the additive manufacturing sector.

“While some of these challenges have been addressed with traditional manufacturing, the landscape of manufacturing is different with additive and the challenges are more complex, appear differently, or simply have not been faced before,” Paxton says.

UAH and The Barnes Group Advisors LLC have partnered with NCDMM. UAH will focus on assessing additive manufacturing suppliers and evaluating the Army's sourcing processes for additive manufacturing, as well as supporting initiatives led by the other partners. Paxton is the lead for the work, supported by OOE research scientist Brian Tucker and undergraduate students.

Paxton says the OOE brings to AMNOW its supply chain mapping and supplier assessments experience with the Army, its experience with additive manufacturing, its experience with cyber security and an unbiased perspective. The work will contribute to the Army adopting broad-based additive manufacturing practices.

“There are some real challenges that are difficult to describe and some that have complicated histories,” Paxton says. “We are looking at opportunities to expand our role now and in future phases.”


Joe Paxton

Jim Steele