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1st Theater Sustainment Command

News Stories

1st TSC Looks to Additive Manufacturing as Key to Modernizing Existing Machinery

By Mr. Brent Thacker | 1st Theater Sustainment Command | February 20, 2019


Additive manufacturing, commonly known as 3-D printing, was invented in the early 1980’s. Almost 40 years later, additive manufacturing is emerging as an essential way to maintain U.S. Army materiel readiness.

Lt. Col. Mike Mai, assistant chief of staff for the G-8, and Chief Warrant Officer 5 Steven Dewey, maintenance chief, both of the 1st Theater Sustainment Command (TSC), visited the Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence (AMCoE) at Rock Island, Ill. recently. The AMCoE is in the process of standing up, and expects to have full operational capability by July 2019. They learned the Army wants to use a two-tiered manufacturing approach to augment Soldiers stateside and on the battlefield.

Mai explained the differences of the Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence and the Rapid Fabrication via Additive Manufacturing on the Battlefield (RFAB) machines.

“The Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence will house dozens of different types of types and sizes of printers, some of which cost 10 to 20 million dollars (each),” Mai said. “They take raw materials such as plastic, metal, and sand and turn them into fully functional parts or molds, ready for use. The RFAB is a battlefield-deployable machine capable of making valuable parts for the warfighters’ immediate use, and will house five printers of three varying types. There are currently only two in the entire Army, one at Rock Island and one that units in Korea are testing on the battlefield”

The 1st TSC wants to use additive manufacturing to get the warfighter what they need now instead of waiting extensively. Soldiers performing daily maintenance of their machines can send back the non-working parts to the AMC allowing them to recreate that part using their 3-D machines.

The Army started looking into needed parts with greater than 90 days lead-time. With the additive manufacturing, the wait time decreased an average of 60 days. The cost to make the parts are not necessarily less than the cost of getting the part direct from the vendor, but it allows Soldiers to continue doing their job, without the loss of downtime.

Lt. Gen. Aundre Piggee, deputy chief of staff, G-4 logistics on the Army staff, recently spoke at the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Service Committee where he outlined several priorities for Army logisticians, including additive manufacturing and utilizing 3-D printing capabilities in the field to create repair parts. The general said the service could take advantage of 3-D printing technology in the field to produce repair parts instead of manufacturing them thousands of miles away.

Maj. Gen. Flem B. “Donnie” Walker, Jr., commanding general for the 1st TSC, spoke on the importance of sustaining the warfighter though additive manufacturing.

“Having the AMC recreate parts for our equipment is vital for the continued use of our critical combat platforms and weapon systems downrange,” Walker said. “Being able to have the parts we need made within a matter of hours instead of waiting months will streamline our supply chain and keep our warfighters engaged in the fight.”

The Army views additive manufacturing as a usable outlet ranging from parts for forklifts to tanks. Having a device as the AMC or the RFAB ready for use will continue the set the theater on logistical parts manufacturing for years to come.