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Who took the gold at the U.S. Air Force’s Advanced Manufacturing Olympics?

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The U.S. Air Force Rapid Sustainment Office concluded its first ever Advanced Manufacturing Olympics, a virtual event coalescing a broad community of experts from industry, academia and government to see all the possibilities for how advanced manufacturing can be deployed across the Department of Defense and Air Force. The virtual conference, held from October 20 to 23, 2020, featured technology demonstrations, high-profile speakers from both industry and military, virtual networking opportunities and five technical challenges.

“The Advanced Manufacturing Olympics is an important step in the U.S. Air Force and Space Force’s ability to unleash and harness the power of innovation to drive reliability and reduce costs of our legacy systems,” said Lt. Gen. Shaun Q. Morris, Commander of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center and Program Executive Officer for the Rapid Sustainment Office. “70% of the cost of our weapons systems is in sustainment. Our sustainment enterprise is what makes us ready to fight on any given day. AMO was critical in helping us find new talent and push the envelope into technology like 3D printing, predictive maintenance and reverse engineering.”

Event speakers included Barbara M. Barrett, Secretary of the Air Force; Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., Chief of Staff of the Air Force; and Gen. John W. Raymond, Chief of Space Operations of the U.S. Space Force. Other speakers featured were Sebastian Thrun, founder of Google X; Brad Keselowski, NASCAR Cup Series driver and founder of Keselowski Advanced Manufacturing; and Christine Furstoss, chief technology officer, GE Additive.

Advanced Manufacturing Olympics winners

Air Force Advanced Manufacturing Olympics

The Advanced Manufacturing Olympics included five Technical Challenges designed specifically to solve some of the Air Force’s most significant sustainment issues. Sixty-four teams representing a cross-section of participants among startups, established companies and universities, from across the U.S. and Canada, were selected to share their solutions specific to real-world barriers in the Air Force’s ability to realize the full benefits of Advanced Manufacturing.

“The Technical Challenges were designed to spark innovation, collaboration and technological evolution in advanced manufacturing and push the boundaries for the U.S. Air Force,” said Nathan Parker, Deputy Program Executive Officer for the RSO. “The teams who competed all showed incredible innovation and passion for solving these barriers in the Air Force’s ability to realize the full benefits of advanced manufacturing.”

Teams competed for a chance to win nearly $1 million in cash prizes to help continue development of their winning solution. For each of the five Technical Challenges, the prizes were $100,000 for First Place, $50,000 for Second Place, and $40,000 for Third Place. The five Technical Challenges were judged by 25 subject matter experts from academia, the U.S. Military (Air Force, Army, and Navy), the Federal Aviation Administration, Ford, Amazon, and aerospace and defense companies.

The First Place winners in each of the five Technical Challenges include:

  • TDP Relay: The Air Force is constantly looking for better performing, more cost effective, and more reliable technology to produce parts that are required by field units. The goal of this challenge was to recreate a 3D printed part from an existing Technical Data Package using innovative techniques, all while demonstrating accuracy, skill and completeness. MakerGear earned first place for printing parts using its MakerGear M3 printer, a material extrusion (FFF) machine, using a gantry-style, Cartesian set up, and Natural PLA, a consumer-grade filament, compatible with most FFF machines.
  • Box of Parts Floor Exercise: 3D printing is revolutionizing parts availability by reengineering broken parts or parts that don’t have existing drawing packages. The goal of this challenge was to identify automated or hands free scanning for rapid and accurate reverse engineering capabilities. Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR) earned first place for excellent accuracy on each part reverse engineered using the Faro 8-Axis Quantum5 FaroArm and FAROBlu Scanner.
  • Material Hurdles: Aluminum and polymer materials are widely used for advanced manufacturing techniques. The goal of this technical challenge was to identify and demonstrate new aluminum materials that will further the Advanced Manufacturing industry. Elementum 3D, Inc. earned first place for selecting high strength 7050 RAM2 aluminum additively manufactured using an EOS M290 printer to replace the 7075 aluminum alloy that is susceptible to stress corrosion cracking.
  • Approval Sprints: Advanced manufacturing technologies are capable of rapid production for sustainment; however, it is difficult to exploit these capabilities without radical improvement to Air Force certification methods and timelines in the approval of new materials, processes, and components. The goal of this challenge was to deliver a polymer additively manufactured replacement solution for rapid deployment of a specified F-16 aircraft component. Stress Engineering Services, Inc., Origin, and nTopology, Inc. earned first place for performing daily design iterations and delivering an optimized DLP clamp design with a Henkel Loctite material rated for Flame Smoke & Toxicity. A data driven approval strategy with its AI engine, eQual AM, at the core, that provided a feedback loop driving continuous improvement of part, material and process performance.
  • Supply Chain Marathon: In the last few years, additive manufacturing has moved far beyond its original prototyping applications and is now used in Supply Chain Management (SCM). The goal of this challenge was to develop the use of novel advanced manufacturing concepts coupled with innovative SCM approaches to propose the best basing strategy that satisfies the most warfighter requirements, and delivers parts on-time and on-schedule. SIMBA Chain earned first place for demonstrating how the use of its self-contained Rapid Additive Manufacturing Lab, which includes all the components and resources necessary for additive manufacturing, could support military wartime operations. From producing aircraft spares, making runway repairs or printing personnel protective equipment (PPE) to protect deployed Airmen from COVID-19 spread, SIMBA Chain painted an impressive picture of what advance technology can do to change the supply chain and enhance readiness levels.
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Victor Anusci

Victor does not really exist. He is a pseudonym for several writers in the 3D Printing Media Network team. As a pseudonym, Victor has also had a fascinating made-up life story, living as a digital (and virtual) nomad to cover the global AM industry. He has always worked extra-hard whenever he was needed to create unique content. However, lately, as our editorial team has grown, he is mostly taking care of publishing press releases.

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