Debra Zides displays a 3D printed part

MITRE Promotes Use of Advanced Manufacturing to Strengthen Supply Chains

By Erica Kierstead , Bradley Hague

Advanced manufacturing (AM) has the potential to revolutionize the U.S. supply chain, decreasing lead times for critical spare parts. MITRE is convening leaders in government, academia, and industry to address barriers to AM adoption.

Above, MITRE's Debra Zides displays a 3D printed part during a tour of our Advanced Manufacturing Lab. (Photo by Laura Homer.)

If there is one rule in manufacturing or life, it's that things break and need repairs. For instance, in the armed forces, managing extensive, meticulous, and complicated supply chains for spare parts can be a matter of life and death. 

If parts are not available in inventory stocks, they must be procured from the original manufacturer. If the part has been discontinued, it will have to be custom crafted, making it more expensive and potentially taking months to fabricate. In the meantime, a multi-million-dollar asset is now grounded until a replacement part is available.

The past few years have shown us how vulnerable our supply chains are to global incidents—from war to pandemics.  At the same time, advanced manufacturing (AM) technologies, such as additive manufacturing, 3D printing, and hybrid manufacturing, have advanced greatly. MITRE is working with government and industry to connect the two groups and help them understand how to work with each other. For example, how can we remove barriers for small and medium-sized organizations to enter the AM market?

Removing Barriers to Advanced Manufacturing

AM technology allows users to rapidly fabricate replacement parts through 3D printing and additive manufacturing, dramatically reducing lead times. This allows technical systems like planes, tanks, and other vehicles to spend more time in operation and less under repair. 

Large companies, such as auto manufacturers, are already taking advantage of this technology by printing their own parts. With such advantages, why aren’t more companies embracing this model?  Part of the answer is that the majority of the supply chain isn’t made up of large companies with the financial strength to embrace the new technologies. 

There is a reluctance for these smaller firms to invest in AM technology without answering several questions: Does the company have the capital to invest? Does the demand justify the investment? What's the return on investments (ROI) in this technology? Do they have the skilled workforce needed to run the new technology? These aren’t simple problems to solve, and the answers are vital. 

To help address these challenges, MITRE partners across government, academia, and industry to elevate the conversation about advanced manufacturing.

MITRE is working to connect academia, industry, and government to propel advanced manufacturing forward and strengthen our domestic manufacturing capabilities.

John Michitson

In October 2022, MITRE and the University of Massachusetts Lowell Innovation Hub in Haverhill, Mass., hosted The Advanced Manufacturing Trust Showcase, which attracted more than 150 attendees.

Sponsors, innovators, industry, and academics focused on how to remove barriers to adopting AM technology, standards to promote best practices, workforce development challenges and opportunities, simplifying government acquisition, contracting, and how to design a secure and neutral digital marketplace for advanced manufacturing.

“MITRE sees the critical need here, and we're working to connect academia, industry, and government to propel advanced manufacturing forward and strengthen our domestic manufacturing capabilities,” said John Michitson, one of MITRE's organizers for the event.

The government sees it as well. Efforts like the recent Additive Manufacturing Forward Initiative focus on getting parts manufacturers to invest in their suppliers and work with the government to advance the state of the art in additive manufacturing.

Through this initiative, larger companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon Technologies are committing to an AM future in which they, among others, will procure more AM parts from small and medium organizations.

Building a New Marketplace

To help convene small and medium manufacturers, MITRE has dedicated its own research and development funds to create an Advanced Manufacturing Marketplace that simplifies the process for these smaller businesses to bid on government contracts for advanced manufactured parts.

“There are other marketplaces out there, but none that are fine-tuned for the government buyer,” Michitson said.  “Right now, the contracting process is complex and time-consuming, particularly for small companies. We’re trying to simplify the process for the benefit of both the manufacturers and the government.”

The marketplace uses auction algorithms and game theory principles to create an open and shared environment in which companies providing advanced manufacturing capabilities can be matched with buyers. Efficiently matching buyers and suppliers based on their specific needs and capabilities will result in several benefits for both, such as reduced costs.

The marketplace could help increase transparency in government contracting as well, making it more accessible to small and medium organizations and decreasing lead time for critical parts affected by supply chain delays.

MITRE is currently meeting with government agencies and other potential stakeholders to demonstrate and discuss the transition of this marketplace to another organization for its use as an open service.

Advanced Manufacturing Can Power American Defense

A strong advanced manufacturing industry is essential to our national economic and security interests. 

New technologies such as additive manufacturing, 3D printing, and hybrid manufacturing have the potential to strengthen the U.S. supply chain and add agility to MITRE’s sponsors’ operations.

Advanced manufacturers allow America’s armed forces to dictate the time and pace of replacement parts and limit our reliance on foreign supply chains. The simple truth is: parts are going to break, pieces are going to need to be replaced. The only question is where and how quickly we get the replacements. 

With advanced manufacturing, they may be only a few keystrokes away. 

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