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Agile Combat Employment (ACE) Advanced Manufacturing Operations Unlocked

October 4, 2023

USAF senior military and civilian leaders gather within an ADAMS shelter as a new innovative approach to deploying aviation compliant 3D printers is unlocked and ready to mobilize.

AFSOC in close partnership with Trac9 unleashes a game-changing approach to deploying aviation-compliant printers in austere locations. During the annual Technology, Acquisition, Sustainment Review (TASR) summit hosted at Cannon AFB, top AFMC and USAF leaders got a glimpse into the future of operationalizing aviation-compliant printers in a contested environment. Although 3D printing is not a new capability, it has been limited by facility, environmental, and power requirements. To date, aviation compliant printers like the one utilized in this concept have relied heavily upon permanent infrastructure at a main operating base.

Although many printers have been “mobilized” or brought onto Navy ships or even packed away in a rucksack for a USMC deployment, those units have traditionally been desktop printers without the certifications required for USAF aviation-compliant components. They have certainly never been deployed in a system that is not limited by interior volume and space requirements. For this reason, the advantages of advanced manufacturing in austere locations have taken a back seat to other innovative sustainment approaches. While aviation-compliant parts manufacturing is important, there are many other sustainment challenges that are found while operating in a contested logistics environment. Support equipment, tools, vehicles, and munitions material handling equipment can all benefit from having this capability within a Mission commander toolset while deployed across the globe.

However, the machine of choice is not the highlight of this article. The ADAMS and its ability to protect high value assets while providing the necessary environment for equipment to meet operational demands of manufactures can facilitate the use of many different machines. The ADAMS can also be utilized as an interim stop gap to existing facility upgrades at a permanent operating base, and it can be utilized to send equipment downrange at a moment’s notice. Think of ADAMS as a platform that can modify or shape any needed capability that is deemed to be operationally vital to mission success.

The future of bridging generational and experience gaps in manufacturing can be achieved by paring technologies like the ones showcased here. The ability to beam down and send over a print file to resolve a logistics challenge is exciting! This capability unlocks the potential for engineering support stateside to have a direct and immediate impact operationally without having to account for geographical distances. It would be simple to send the part file over and let qualified, trained operators post process solutions at the point of need. Perhaps we may even enhance Aircraft Battle Damage Repair (ABDR) efforts by providing an ADAMS capable of deploying metal aviation compliant printers in the future.

Aviation compliant polymer printers utilize a material known as ULTEM 9085 which is a flame-retardant, high-performance thermoplastic authorized for use in aerospace and railway applications. It has a high strength-to-weight ratio, high thermal and chemical resistance and meets flame, smoke, and toxicity requirements for military applications.