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News | July 2, 2019

DCMA team learns more about additive manufacturing

By Tonya Johnson DCMA Public Affairs

The Defense Contract Management Agency has started conducting more research on the benefits of additive manufacturing and how it can help customers.

Additive manufacturing involves using a computer model that uses specific 3D software to create layers. A machine then builds the part layer by layer.

There are three common additive manufacturing processes being developed for use on Department of Defense contracts. The processes are the fused deposition modeling, which uses a plastic filament through a heated nozzle; powder bed fusion, which involves using a laser or electron beam to sinter or melt powdered plastic, metal or ceramic; and electron beam melting or wire arc additive manufacturing, which involves a metal wire melted using an electron beam.

Most parts are usually made through conventional manufacturing, also known as subtractive manufacturing. Subtractive manufacturing can limit the design of the product because the cutting tools used need access to remove material to make the product. Additive manufacturing typically requires less material.

According to Michael Shields, DCMA’s executive director of Quality Assurance, additive manufacturing has many benefits. It can help reduce energy costs and potentially reduce the cost of a product. It can improve lead times since a customer can increase or decrease an order based on demand, reduce or eliminate the need for specialized fixtures and tooling, and it is useful for prototyping a part to shorten the design iteration cycle.

“DCMA has some contracts that involve additive manufacturing,” said Shields. “In each contract, the contractor will use parts that will still be subjected to the same rigorous testing as conventionally manufactured parts before being accepted. As more contractors continue to employ additive manufacturing, this area will continue to grow.”

Quality assurance engineers, contracting specialists, and other agency employees visited the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia, and the Navy Sea Systems Command in Dam Neck, Virginia, within the last six months to learn more on how the Navy is using additive manufacturing to aid in mission readiness.

“Our discussion included some of the common interests and issues, including the technical perspective, cybersecurity, contract requirements, and training,” said Michael Gabertan, an engineer in the Technical Directorate. “The interactions provided additional insight into the gaps that may exist in the additive manufacturing acquisition cycle as the product goes from development through prototyping and testing, and on to full-rate production.

“It is imperative to expose DCMA personnel from various functional areas, including quality assurance, engineering, contracting, safety, training, and manufacturing to the additive manufacturing process as practiced and implemented by another DoD component to gain an awareness of common issues that should be addressed at DCMA.”

Gabertan said it’s important that when a DCMA customer wants to use additive manufacturing that the Technical Data Package is accurate. DCMA and Navy representatives also discussed how to adopt a common contract language requirement. DCMA employees were previously given an additive manufacturing contracting guide to review and offer feedback, which was provided to the Navy in March.

In addition to visiting the Navy, DCMA employees have also visited Quantico Marine Corps Base to learn how the Marine Corps currently uses or plans to use additive manufacturing.

Shields noted that DCMA is also working on a pilot project with a prime contractor as operational procedures, acceptance criteria, and the development of new non-destructive testing methods are being defined for product acceptance.

“DCMA technical and contracting representatives will continue to interact with the military services and other customers to determine the best way forward for DCMA to properly monitor contracts that involve using additive manufacturing parts,” said Shields. “The information shared and implemented will help enhance agency customer engagement, policies and process surveillance.”

As DCMA and its customers implement additive manufacturing into more contracts, employee and contractor training will be forthcoming. An additive manufacturing process review document has been created.

The Technical Directorate is also developing a centralized additive manufacturing tracking database, which will allow employees from across the agency to access information, including which contractors use the process and their location; various additive manufacturing processes and materials; and machine manufacturers and models.

“Additive manufacturing presents similar opportunities and challenges that other formerly novel manufacturing processes presented when they were introduced,” said Shields. “However, it will become another manufacturing process subject to well-defined DCMA surveillance. We are actively working to get there as soon as possible.

“As part of the DoD community, we must actively engage with the program offices and buying commands to reduce costs and improve the delivery of quality products to the warfighter.”