Last week, the U.S. Air Force Rapid Sustainment Office (RSO) Advanced Manufacturing Program Office (AMPO) officially went live with the Part Assessment and Cost Tool (PACT), the first advanced manufacturing application available on Air Force Cloud One. Launched in 2017 and managed by Air Force as a “one-stop shop” for cloud computing services, Cloud One is available to anyone in the Department of Defense (DoD).
Similar to the digital inventory platforms offered by a number of additive manufacturing (AM) and software as a service (SaaS) enterprises, PACT assesses uploaded part files for their viability as candidates to be produced with advanced manufacturing techniques. The AMPO’s advanced manufacturing capabilities primarily involve all the various forms of AM, especially powder bed fusion (PBF), as well as cold spray and directed energy deposition (DED).
Specifically, PACT grades every part candidate regarding “supply chain impact”, compatibility with the AMPO’s repertoire of advanced manufacturing techniques, and return on investment (ROI).
In a February 2023 press release about Cloud One, Todd Wieser, chief technology officer for US Air Force Special Operations Command, said, “Using Cloud One allows our personnel and teams to collaborate securely both at the tactical edge and at the strategic level; both in-garrison and deployed. Cloud One’s ability to run on many different platforms and its feature set enables us to reduce security risks and operate successfully.” In a press release about PACT’s going live on Cloud One, Daniel Dismuke, RSO AMPO Digital Enabler Program Manager, said, “It’s the first in a series of applications to be deployed to Cloud One. It establishes a foundation to rapidly deploy future [advanced manufacturing] capabilities to Cloud One.”
Although cloud-enabled distributed manufacturing has long been envisioned as one of the ideal deployments of AM, the state of the technology hasn’t yet supported that potential. On the other hand, the fact that the branch of the US military that has historically been most supportive to the buildup of AM just went live with its first AM application suggests a shift is on the horizon.
It is, of course, just one of the many examples suggesting such a shift, with the recently-published report by Additive Manufacturing Research, “Additive Manufacturing for Military and Defense“, estimating that DoD will spend $300 million on 3D printers in 2023. Going forward, it will be just as crucial for industry observers to track DoD spending on supply chain digitalization software applications, in order to gauge the DoD’s AM progress.
Along those lines, one of the most under-the-radar government contracts in this space that I’ve written about this year was the Air Force’s award of a $4.6 billion contract to government services giant Amentum in February 2023, to digitize the US military’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program.
Although that contract itself goes far beyond AM, companies in the AM sector should nonetheless keep their eyes on such a well-funded push to increase the DoD’s capacity to digitize its supply chains. The more applications like PACT that are released, the likelier the chances that AM will become a centerpiece of those digitization efforts, rather than just one tool amongst many.
Image courtesy of US Air Force