Publicly released: October 21, 2019
The objective of this audit was to determine the extent to which the DoD used additive manufacturing (AM) when obtaining sustainment parts. Specifically, we evaluated the DoD’s actions to implement AM for the sustainment of equipment and weapon systems, including the coordination of AM efforts across the DoD. In this report, “sustainment parts” refers to parts being replaced on existing weapon systems. Our review also included the tools and molds produced through AM that were used to sustain weapon systems.
AM creates an object by adding layers of material from three-dimensional data, unlike traditional, or subtractive, manufacturing processes where the product is created by cutting away material from a larger piece. This process also includes 3-D printing. Examples of AM materials include plastics, metals, and ceramics.
The National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2017 Senate Report “strongly encouraged” the DoD to more aggressively pursue AM capabilities to improve readiness and enable the Military Services to be more self‑sustainable.
The Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manufacturing and Industrial Base Policy is the DoD AM lead that oversees the implementation of AM and reports to the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering.
The Office of the Secretary of Defense implemented policy and established multiple working groups to coordinate efforts between the Military Services and the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). In addition, at least 81 Military Service depots, maintenance facilities, and field locations have used AM to produce thousands of AM parts and tools, such as cooling ducts, clips, and wrenches, to decrease maintenance time, reduce the impact of obsolete parts that are no longer available through traditional manufacturing sources, and improve existing parts.
However, the DoD could expand the use of AM to obtain sustainment parts by:
- standardizing the data elements captured for AM parts produced to ensure consistency in production, standardizing reporting requirements for AM equipment and funds spent to understand where the DoD is investing its resources, and standardizing the cataloging of AM parts to ensure the AM data are consistent and complete;
- implementing a method for sharing AM parts data within the Military Services and across the DoD to eliminate duplicative efforts when designing and producing AM parts;
- increasing awareness of AM among officials in acquisition, contracting, logistics, and senior DoD management to identify additional AM candidate parts; and
- identifying the staffing and funding necessary to accomplish AM initiatives.
These actions could increase the use of AM and improve warfighter readiness by decreasing the lead and repair times from years to days for some hard-to-procure parts that can be produced through AM. For example, the Navy used AM to produce an MH-60R sonar system cover. This AM part reduced the time it took to receive the part from 2 years to 1 week and decreased costs per cover.
In addition, the DoD could save funds by eliminating duplicative AM efforts, using AM for low-quantity and high-cost parts that are hard to obtain, and using AM to replace a single part rather than an entire component if the parts are found to be appropriate for AM. For example, an F-35 landing gear door bump stop has to be purchased as part of the traditionally produced landing gear assembly for $70,000; however, the Navy used AM to produce the bump stop for only $0.75. The AM-produced part made it unnecessary for the Navy to purchase the entire assembly.
We recommend that the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering standardize the data to be reported by the Military Services and the DLA for AM parts produced, AM equipment available, and amount spent on AM.
We recommend that the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, in coordination with the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment:
- develop policy that standardizes the cataloging of AM parts;
- develop and require the Military Services and the DLA to implement a single method to share data on AM parts; and
- provide awareness of AM and its capabilities to the Military Services and the DLA program officers, logisticians, contracting officers, and senior DoD management and require the Military Services and the DLA to update its AM guidance.
We recommend that the Military Service Secretaries and the Marine Corps Commandant require the AM leads to implement a process that compiles a complete list of all AM parts produced and parts waiting for approval to share within each Military Service, and update the list as needed.
We recommend that the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, the Military Service Secretaries, and the Marine Corps Commandant conduct a review to identify the appropriate funding and number of personnel to pursue benefits of AM throughout the DoD.
Management Comments and Our Response
The Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps agreed to implement a process to compile a complete list of AM parts and are working to make these parts accessible to the Military Services. Management comments addressed the specifics of the recommendation; therefore, the recommendation is resolved but will remain open. We will close the recommendation once the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps provide documentation verifying they have compiled complete and accessible lists of the parts produced and parts awaiting approval.
The Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps also agreed to identify the appropriate funding and number of personnel to pursue the benefits of AM. Management comments addressed the specifics of the recommendation; therefore, the recommendation is resolved but will remain open. We will close the recommendation once the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps provide documentation verifying they have developed an estimate of the appropriate funding and staffing levels for the specific tasks.
The Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, and Secretary of the Army did not respond to the recommendations in the report. Therefore, the recommendations to these individuals are unresolved. We request that the Under Secretaries and the Secretary of the Army provide comments on the final report. Please see the Recommendations Table on the next page for the status of recommendations.
This report is a result of Project No. D2019-D000AT-0057.000.