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DLP using 3D Systems’ Figure 4™ platform for rapid part replacement of low-criticality part families such as knobs, electrical connectors, wire grommets, and spacers.
One of the biggest challenges for the sustainment community is the need for parts not readily available due to unforeseen replacement demand, lack of suppliers, and cost or lead time of required tooling. In many cases, the return on investment to develop an approach to replace simple low-criticality plastic parts like knobs, connectors, and spacers does not warrant the investment in traditional manufacturing means. Efforts to relieve some of this pressure via fused deposition modeling (FDM) technology have been initiated on MAMLS Phase I and at the air logistic complexes (ALC). The lack of speed, resolution, density, and process controls, however, has limited the parts that are able to be addressed by FDM alone, resulting in lower productivity at the ALCs.
The objective of this project was to evaluate and advance the ability of emerging DLP technology to supply low-criticality components that fulfill sustainment part functions for rapid, custom, and robust parts to reduce stock level requirements and product lead times. The vision was that the technology would supplement existing AM technologies at the ALCs where higher resolution, smoother surfaces, elastomers, or increased volumes are needed. The goal was to quickly scan and print these parts in real-time (hours not days) for just-in-time inventory control of small polymer parts critical to ALC efficiency.
The University of Dayton Research Institute led the program effort which included 3D Systems Corporation, Northrop Grumman, Orbital ATK, and Lockheed Martin. The Figure 4™ platform by 3D Systems was used to address the need for low-criticality part replacement. The project team demonstrated the utility and benefits of Figure 4™ (DLP) technology; identified and overcame technological and material science challenges associated with DLP through part family-specific testing, characterization, and post-processing; demonstrated rapid part replacement for low-criticality parts of immediate need to ALCs; and established a clear technology development, vetting, and transition pathway for emerging AM technologies like the Figure 4™ model.
This program was successful in showing how DLP can be used for rapid part replacement. Detailed readiness status and recommendations were collected for several parts according to the following categories: opportunity, material readiness, printability readiness, post-processing readiness, and transition recommendation. Significant progress was made in the manufacture of parts that previously had no avenue for cost-effective sustainment. UDRI and project partners now have more knowledge of DLP and the areas of sustainment or research where this technology would be beneficial. This project also allowed the partners to share drawings, requirements, parts, and other details openly, which enabled quick iterations of parts and opinions from various perspectives.
UDRI worked with project partners throughout the program to develop a transition plan for the parts and technology. Several parts grew from an idea or general need to current applications where the technology is being applied. The backlit panel part family required material that was not yet in the DLP space. Through this program, UDRI was able to communicate to 3D Systems the specific needs of this part family. Because of the work done on this program, the transition of other backlit panels will be more apparent. For example, a partner of Northrop Grumman was having similar issues replacing backlit panels and knobs. Now there is an available material that is suitable for this purpose, and the geometry is proven to be printable with DLP.