6K Additive has received a five-year Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA) order from the US Army Contracting Command. Intended to support the activities of US Army Development Command (DEVCOM) — probably the most important agency for advanced manufacturing R&D within the army — the BPA gives four US Army R&D organizations access to 6K’s metal additive manufacturing (AM) powders, made using its proprietary UniMelt process,
Those organizations include New Jersey’s Picatinny Arsenal, Benet Labs in New York, Adelphi Laboratories in Maryland, and Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois. One of the key differentiators of 6K’s UniMelt plasma production process is that it facilitates the manufacturing of metal powders from recycled materials, enabling the conversion of scrap metal to metal AM feedstock. The UniMelt process is compatible with nickel, titanium, copper, as well as refractory metals like tungsten.
In this case, a BPA essentially means that the four organizations mentioned above can place repeated orders from 6K for metal powders at a fixed price, with a limit to either the total amount that can be spent each year or on each order. Thus, it allows the government to order from 6K as the need arises, without establishing a new contract for each order.
“World’s largest 3D printer”, at Rock Island Arsenal. Image courtesy of SME
Image courtesy of 6K Additive
This deal signals that a genuinely transformational moment in the US military’s AM progress has arrived: as soon as the military can turn scrap from its overflowing boneyards into AM feedstock at scale, the bureaucracy tied to changing programs of record in the US defense budget will truly be the biggest obstacle standing in the way of the military’s going all in on AM.
Moreover, a contract like this could ultimately help address that exact problem, as well. As 6K points out in the press release, “already certified scrap” is ensured to “meet the desired specification” that has already been determined for a given part in a given program of record. If this process can be optimized to where 3D printed parts don’t have to be re-qualified, or if the re-qualification process can at least be fast-tracked digitally, it greatly simplifies — and greatly accelerates — the budgetary process related to replacing existing US military parts made with legacy techniques with 3D printed parts. This is a perfect example of the sort of project where initial success is likely to lead to exponential growth.