Image of Army Futures Command
Army scientists work with a steel alloy to 3-D print intricate geometries with ultra-high-strength. This sample, created using a technique called powder bed fusion, is the symbol of the Army Futures Command. The steel is 50-percent stronger than what is commercially available. (Photo Credit: David McNally)

Top university and industry researchers met recently at Carnegie Mellon University to forge a collaboration designed to improve on-demand 3-D printing. As part of a newly formed Research Alliance for Additive Manufacturing Innovations, the group will uncover best approaches to advance unified holistic multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary additive manufacturing research for Army acquisition and sustainment programs.

Alliance members are partners with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command's Army Research Laboratory where the goal is to develop, advance and integrate high-fidelity modular digital, analytical, and predictability additive manufacturing tools under a unified machine-learning platform.

"This alliance will help execute strategic, collaborative land force research towards Army priorities," said Kyu Cho, chief of the laboratory's Manufacturing Science and Technology Branch. "Our warfighters will be able to replace aged parts on current and legacy weapons, particularly where replacements parts are no longer available from the original supplier or operational logistics are disrupted.

Army researchers said the outcomes must meet quality, performance, and affordability standards, which is a known challenge, for achieving Army additive manufacturing rapid certification and qualification readiness. The goal is to ultimately provide the Army with expeditionary agile manufacturing capabilities at or near the point of need.

The alliance formation is one of several recent steps the laboratory has taken to advance research in additive manufacturing. Earlier this year, the lab announced a new partnership with a company that licensed parts of a new type of polymer filament Army researchers created that can be used on commonly used desktop 3-D printers. Parts printed with these printers typically have poor strength and toughness. But new materials can print parts on commercially available printers and only need to process for a few hours to achieve mechanical properties that are practical and useful.

The Army's additive manufacturing work extends from plastic, metal, sand and novel materials that behave like human tissues and bones needed for advanced ballistics research.

In 2019, Army researchers developed a way to 3-D print ultra-strong metal parts by adapting an alloy originally developed by the Air Force into powder form. Using powder bed fusion, a 3-D printer's laser selectively melts the powder into a pattern. The printer then coats the build plate with additional layers of powder until the part is complete. That work will be further developed as part of the laboratory's investment in the development of the world's largest, fastest, most precise metal 3-D printer.

In July 2019, the lab awarded 3D Systems a $15 million contract to create a printer that would revolutionize key supply chains associated with long-range munitions, next-generation combat vehicles, helicopters and air and missile defense capabilities. 3D Systems and the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences were awarded funding to create this revolutionary printer and will partner with the Army and the Advanced Manufacturing, Materials, and Processes Program to advance the leadership and innovation of the world's strongest military.

The new alliance complements the CAMMS partnership with the NCMS AMMP Consortium. CAMMS established a partnership with the Advanced Manufacturing and Materials Processes Consortium in 2018 to ensure alignment of projects towards Army priorities. The National Center for Manufacturing Sciences runs the consortium, which is establishing an Advanced Manufacturing Collaboration Center at or near APG to facilitate physical collaboration with Army.