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History: Additive Manufacturing in the U.S. Military

The military has been involved with additive manufacturing technology since at least 2012 when 3D printers were first deployed in the field by the Army, Navy, and various Department of Defense (DoD) contractors. But it wasn’t until 2016 that things really took off.

In early 2016, at the request of the DoD, America Makes and Deloitte held nine workshops with three branches of the U.S. military and the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). The workshop findings were consolidated into a report, the Department of Defense Additive Manufacturing Roadmap, which was released in November of that same year. The first of its kind, the additive manufacturing roadmap was intended to establish this “game-changing technology” as a means to “improve logistics, enable new and improved products, and increase material readiness” for the United States military and the DoD.

Since then, the military’s ongoing use of AM has grown significantly, evolving from basic prototyping to end-use parts in vehicles, planes, weapons, gear, shelters, and more. In January of this year, the DoD published the Department of Defense Additive Manufacturing Strategy, soon followed in June by the DOD Instruction 5000.93 Use of Additive Manufacturing in the DOD. Instruction 5000.93 establishes overall AM policy, roles, and responsibilities across the DoD and provides overarching additive manufacturing guidance.

The strategy sets a common AM vision and lays out five goals:

  • Integrate AM into DoD and the organic and commercial industrial bases
  • Align, promote, and advance AM activities across the department and with federal agencies
  • Collaborate with industry and academia to establish a public-private partnership with America Makes
  • Expand proficiency in the DoD workforce through quality training and sharing best practices
  • Ensure cybersecurity of the AM workflow within the DoD and supply chain

Today, the majority of military 3D printing activities are employed for “experimental” purposes. The military is frequently on the cutting edge of technology innovation due to massive budgets and seemingly endless resources. And as we’ve seen in the past — with technologies such as the internet, satellite navigation, duct tape, digital photography, etc — many military projects eventually find their way into the civilian world.

This is part one of our two-part blog series on additive manufacturing in the military. In part two, we will highlight specific examples of AM projects developing across the various branches of the military.

*For some additional insight into how the military overcomes supply chain risks with additive manufacturing, check out our recent webinar recording.

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