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Future directions for the use of Additive Manufacturing in NATO operations

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Applied Vehicle Technology

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Additive manufacturing AM, AM architecture, in theatre damage repair, in theatre level AM capabilities, interoperability, NATO supply chain


Additive manufacturing (AM) or 3D printing is a process of making a three-dimensional solid object of virtually any shape from a digital model. 3D printing is achieved using an additive process, where successive layers of material are laid down in different shapes. 3D printing is also considered distinct from traditional machining techniques, which mostly rely on the removal of material by methods such as cutting or drilling (subtractive processes). This approach opens for new designs with different geometric characteristics, more complex shapes and/or the possibility to introduce internal (lattice) structures, which is not possible with the traditional manufacturing approaches. AM is a revolutionary technology with significant implications for world industrial manufacturing and the future of warfare. It has the potential to improve readiness, reduce wider obsolescence issues, decrease sustainment costs, compress the supply chain and enhance warfighting capability. Recognizing this potential, NATO members are currently investing heavily in this technology, AM is already being used by some Nations and is rapidly becoming further embedded into the battlefield. However, detailed analysis and research is needed to ensure proper integration of the technology and to properly leverage its use. The AVT Panel has recently been addressing the topic of AM as part of their PoW in the Specialists’ Meeting (RSM) AVT-258 – Additive Manufacturing for Military Hardware (Tallinn, Estonia, 28-29 April 2016), and in the Workshop (RWS) AVT-267 - Future of Manufacturing for Military Applications (19-20 April 2018, Torino, Italy). Moreover, the Specialist Team AVT-ST-006 – “Exploitation of Additive Manufacturing in NATO” has recently finished their report “Perspectives on the Use of Additive Manufacturing in NATO Operations” with main focus on NATO Joint logistics and (in-field) production capability.


When considering AM, NATO’s integrating function gives it a unique opportunity to influence and shape the exploitation of an emerging technology. This may include, but not be limited to: • Coordination and, when assigned, control of theatre-level AM capabilities and assets • Enabling theatre AM architecture through policy, resourcing and facilitation • Standardization and the achievement of interoperability, including the ownership, leasing or generation of technical data files and electronic record management • Equipment and infrastructure ownership within the context of NATO defence planning • Workforce development (training, education and certification) • Consideration of vulnerabilities exposed through adoption of the technology by adversaries • Development of a cyber threat assessment relating to technical data integrity and the security of AM equipment and associated firmware • Provision and management of a digital media repository and a network of physical manufacturing equipment Support from System Analysis and Studies (SAS) Panel required: • Provision of advice and subject matter expertise on AM, its employment and legal and warranty issues. • Conduct a mapping and analysis of the role and place in the supply chain of additive manufacturing (what /when /where can additive manufacturing be utilized) • Identify the technical limitations of additive manufacturing to include extra requirements (including quality control), risks and costs involved. • Develop a trade-off cost-benefit-risk analysis to the use of additive manufacturing in logistics


Based on the input from 15 nations and NSPA to the survey conducted in AVT-ST-006, as well as the ST’s own experience and expertise, the ST made some recommendations for future directions for the use of AM in logistics and for in-field production capability for NATO operations: • developing NATO standards and recommendations for the set of materials and production processes used in NATO operations • establishing a NATO digital library for spare parts • establish routines for material characterization and test set-up for quality assurance of printed parts used in NATO operations • establishing the infrastructure for NATO joint logistic operations • support science and technology collaboration and information exchange within NATO This ET will consider the above list of suggested actions/initiatives, as well as other, to define the next steps for use of AM in NATO operations, with special focus on logistics and (in-field) production capability.

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