- Assistant secretary of Air Force for acquisition, technology, and logistics says 3D metal printing poised to streamline military maintenance, save billions
- Army’s suppliers reluctant to manufacture highly demanding but low-volume production; 3D metal printing changes this
- Sigma Labs’ unique quality-assurance software essential for leveraging full potential of 3D metal printing in defense sector
The United States’ defense budget consumes a large portion of its overall spending; in 2018, the cost of replacing the Army’s aviation fleet alone was a staggering $4 billion (http://ibn.fm/TwAW4). Currently, a substantial portion of this cost is tied up in bidding manufacturers to produce specific replacement parts on aging aircraft, creating a critical need for affordable, effective parts manufacturing (http://ibn.fm/2Axy8).
This is where 3D metal printing – deemed a “significant advance in military parts purchasing” – steps in. Sigma Labs Inc.’s (NASDAQ: SGLB) PrintRite3D® software, a revolutionary, real-time, computer-aided inspection technology that enables in-process quality assurance of 3D metal printing, could prove to be an important piece in the U.S. defense sector’s 3D metal printing plans. SGLB’s technology is the only real-time, in-process, quality-assurance solution capable of observing, managing and controlling manufacturing complexities while detecting defects and intervening immediately.
Will Roper, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology, and logistics, discussed the transformative power of additive manufacturing technology for the military sector in a recent Washington Post article. Additive manufacturing, often called 3D printing, includes methods used to create a three-dimensional object by robotically layering powdered material under computer control. The capability to produce high-quality metal parts has dramatically broadened the practical application of the nascent technology, and the defense industry has been quick to capitalize on its potential.
In recent years, resources have been allocated to investigate the potential of the emerging technology for producing replacement parts. Roper states that 3D metal printing could save the U.S. Army billions of dollars each year on military equipment maintenance related to producing small scale but rather complex parts. Some of the equipment in question, while still useful, was built decades ago. With replacement parts in short supply, maintaining this equipment can be expensive.
Roper also notes that, according to the Government Accountability Office, this upkeep – or “sustainment” in military language – accounts for around 70% of total costs of weapons’ ownership. Just for the 52 C-5 cargo warplanes that the Air Force operates, sustainment amounts to about $620 million per year. The conventional production is proving expensive as manufacturers must create customized parts while meeting a myriad of military specifications, allocating equipment and manpower for a small production that won’t be reordered for many years. The end result is extremely high cost of replacement parts – but 3D metal printing is set to change all this.
“In two short years, 3-D printing has spread across the Air Force,” Roper writes in the Washington Post article. “Today, we print thousands of spare aircraft parts from metals and polymers, lowering operating cost by tens of millions while getting planes back to the fight faster. The need is severe: For example, three C-5s are grounded, awaiting exhaust ducts because our purchase offer of more than $430,000 for eight units did not entice a single supplier for months… When we finally received a bid, the earliest delivery was 34 weeks.”
“Using a 3-D printer, our Air Force engineers made [a] latrine panel for $300, saving $8,200, compared with the open market prices we once paid through the Defense Logistics Agency,” Roper writes. However, Roper noted that differences from printer to a printer can introduce peculiar defects not found in traditional manufacturing. To secure adequate performance and confidence in how the produced parts were made, thereby addressing craft part integration safety, especially under the stress and strain of flight, 3D metal-printing technology needs to address quality control issues such as the variable occurrence of part “lack of fusion porosity” which in turn creates a potentially lucrative opening for Sigma Labs’ technology.
The company could be a crucial player as it is recognized as a leader in the 3D metal-printing, quality-assurance domain. With still modest valuation at around $14 million, combined with a robust lineup of lucrative collaboration opportunities with industry’s major players and the expected growth of the whole market, Sigma Labs represents an investment opportunity that is high on investors’ radar in 2020. The company is poised to capitalize on its intense efforts during the previous years.
For more information, visit the company’s website at www.SigmaLabsInc.com
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