REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. - 3-D printing is the process of using a computer-controlled laser to build something layer by layer, like a cake. The end product could be plastic or metal, and it can be very complex. This process is also called additive manufacturing, since the finished product is added to in layers.
For soldiers in the field, it might sound a bit exotic. But it isn't, and for them, it certainly won't be.
"We're definitely looking at ways to be more efficient, so that's why I believe this is going to continue to build in the future," said Bernard Goodly, the Supply Capability Division Chief for the Army Materiel Command.
Goodly is quick to say that the Army already has an additive manufacturing program. The new effort is all about finding the quickest way to replace defective, worn-out or obsolete parts when the process of doing so can fill a crucial need, quickly. It's all part of what the Army calls readiness.
"And that's the more important, that's the number one priority of the Army," Goodly said. "Comes from the Chief of Staff of the Army."
Suppose a unit needs parts for its vehicles, and there's a supply problem. Additive manufacturing , and its weeks-instead-of-months response time, could answer the commanders' most pressing need, which "is getting in some cases from non-mission capable status to fully mission capable status," said Goodly.
Additive manufacturing is one thing at a base, but something else in the field. The Army wants to add that latter capability.
"Soldiers can use that, they can start printing parts there. They can get a feel for it, they can give us feedback," said Goodly.
There are still plenty of challenges facing the Army's ambitious plans for additive manufacturing. The biggest is making sure that the parts made in this new way are tested and qualified as being as dependable as those manufactured in traditional ways. Lives depend on the parts working correctly.
Bernard Goodly also wants everyone to know that this new additive manufacturing effort isn't a replacement for the current supply chain, but rather to augment it.