There’s a lot of skepticism in the technical and defense community about whether additively manufactured (AM) parts are as good as traditionally manufactured parts. EXPANSIA is helping the Department of Defense (DoD) know how to determine and understand the quality of an additively manufactured part. We’re proving that the additive technology and methodology can and will produce quality parts the DoD needs for their aircraft and weapon systems and that it can be done faster than the traditional method. In short, we’re building the DoD’s trust in additive manufacturing as integrators, leading them to the best AM sources.
To put it simply, additive manufacturing is a process of three-dimensionally printing parts using various digital methods to create lighter and stronger parts. The process is to use a digital model or 3D scan and build up the product or part layer by layer using a wide variety of different materials. True to its name, it adds material to make something, as opposed to the traditional means of removing material from a stock shape. Where the traditional method may have trouble with designs that are too complex or take too long to make, AM has the advantage in its ability to create with more efficient processes and faster lead times up to 90-95 percent.
We interviewed Steve Vorisek, Chief Growth Officer (CGO) at EXPANSIA, about the company’s work in advancing additive manufacturing in the defense industry and the impact it can have in the federal space. Vorisek is heavily involved in the engagement between EXPANSIA and the DoD regarding the use of AM, and explained the importance of putting the effort into expanding its impact:
“The advantages [of AM] are that you can print on demand and you can print in low numbers. If you need just one or two parts, you can print one or two parts. You don’t have to buy a whole batch of them and then have leftovers. Printing on demand makes manufacturing these parts a lot quicker than typical traditional manufacturing methods.
“So, it’s really helpful for the Air Force and the DoD as they use legacy systems for long periods of time, like the B-52 bomber plane (which has been around since the 1950s). However, the supply base for building and sustaining the aircraft goes away as the interest of manufacturers to build legacy parts eventually goes away. Additive manufacturing is a way to fill in the gaps of the supply base where companies have moved on because they don’t want to build older parts anymore. It gives us the ability to keep those planes in the air by not having to go back to the traditional vendor that used to make all of these parts because we can make them organically, which means we can do them in-house.”
It’s important to know how to determine and understand the quality of an additively manufactured part. That’s where EXPANSIA comes in with our expertise. For traditional manufacturing methods, there are decades worth of experience that inform the material characteristics we can expect to get through those methods. For AM, that level of characterization is still underway for many materials and printing methods. We’re heavily involved in setting up the testing required for a particular AM part, and then we test it against the parameters that the Air Force and Department of Defense expect so the engineering authorities can be assured that it’s a safe part to use in their systems.
“The Achilles’ heel for the DoD is a lot of people can print parts, but it’s a whole other thing to get them qualified through the engineering processes,” says Vorisek. “There are 3D print houses and plenty of people who print 3D parts, but just because you can print a part doesn’t mean the Air Force is going to let it in an airplane. It needs to be tested correctly. Where EXPANSIA excels is taking the technical parameters of a part and the data that tells us it’s a part the Air Force needs quickly (because why would you induct a part that’s not needed), and marrying all of that to produce the best candidate part or parts to be inducted first. That’s never been done before. We take those printed parts through the rigor, through the testing, through the entire qualification process, and present them to the Air Force engineering authorities to verify they’re good to go and that they’re of good quality.”
Moving forward, EXPANSIA will continue to lead the Air Force down the path towards Additive Manufacturing as a fast and reliable alternative method of producing trustable parts.
We’ll refine our data models for selecting parts, and automate those processes so we can do analysis to identify AM candidate parts rapidly for any weapon system. Also, we’ll create AM-specific technical data package standards that allow those qualifications to be propagated across weapon systems, so they don’t have to create them from scratch every time. In time, EXPANSIA plans to take our expertise to the Army and the Navy as well.
Additive Manufacturing is key to our mission as a company to “Deploy Technology Faster.” Look for EXPANSIA in the DoD federal space as we make AM indispensable for all the government’s production needs.