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Grand Challenge: Metal Additive Manufacturing

August 2, 2021 October 15, 2021

Are you a manufacturer with systems in place for large-format metal additive manufacturing (MAM)? Your technologies could provide many potential advantages over conventional manufacturing techniques, like on-demand production capabilities, part consolidation opportunities, alternate/agile manufacturing sources, small lot size production, and performance-enhancing geometric customization. 

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) seeks partners to develop large-format MAM processes for relevant metal alloys with mechanical properties, geometric detail resolution, and surface finishes competitive with laser powder bed fusion methods, but preferably at lower costs. The goal of this challenge is to adapt and demonstrate a large-scale MAM technology for relevant materials and geometries. 

In this three-phase challenge, we will be looking for manufacturers with existing systems to produce large-scale metal 3D printing. Open to U.S. and international companies, we’re looking for Solvers who are capable of:

  • >1 m build height, width, & depth
  • producing a cylindrical prototype with approximate dimensions of 25-cm diameter, 125-cm length, 2.5-cm wall thickness
  • use a predefined ultra-high strength steel (UHSS) alloy
  • demonstrate a full-size part printed as a single unit
  • producing parts which maintain uniform material performance
  • limiting compromises on dimensional accuracy, minimum feature size, and surface finish in the as-printed state

Heat treatment to reach desired mechanical properties or microstructure is acceptable. 

While MAM may not be the ideal manufacturing method for mass fabrication of the simple, cylindrical geometries described in this challenge, the intent of this challenge is to advance the state of the art in large-format MAM to enable future on-demand production of geometrically complex structures that meet the same standards in material properties. This challenge is to find the best available large-format MAM technologies to manufacture USAF relevant parts, adapt the technology for materials of interest, and demonstrate the capability for parts greater than 125-cm long. 

Phase 1

The first phase of this challenge requires a written response (white paper of no more than 4-6 pages) to describe the basic approach (i.e. the proposed manufacturing process and equipment), the technical risks and mitigation strategies, and the submitter’s relevant expertise. The proposed solution should be scoped for a 12-24 month technical effort, clearly state the deliverables (e.g. plan, hardware, test coupons, experimental data, computer-aided design models, etc.), and identify/define solution constraints to the clearest extent possible. 

Phase 2

The second phase will be to develop and demonstrate the proposed approach for a new material by printing, testing, and evaluating coupons that meet the requirements of the challenge. This includes sourcing feedstock material for the selected MAM technique, developing the process parameters, and validating the quality of printed coupons with respect to microstructural porosity, mechanical properties (e.g. tensile strength, Charpy V-notch fracture toughness), and surface finish. 

Phase 3

The third phase will be to demonstrate the success of the proposed approach and new material by printing a steel cylinder with complex internal features (e.g. thickness variations, ogive shaping, integrating datums and features, etc) that meets the requirements of the challenge. 

Prize Award 

To receive an award, the Solvers will not have to transfer their exclusive IP rights to the Seeker. Instead, they will grant to the Seeker Government Purpose Rights to build their solutions. However, the intent of this competition is to help the solution provider team with a company that can build a viable product for future Department of Defense purchases. 

The Doolittle Institute will host An Ask Me Anything, on 25 August 2021 at 10:00AM EDT. during which interested parties can get more information about requirements, working with AFRL, prize awards, and more. To register for this challenge visit HERE.

The Doolittle Institute, an AFRL Innovation Institute, supports the Air Force Research Labs Munitions Directorate by working to license and commercialize AFRL/RW technologies in the private sector, enable rapid technology delivery to the warfighter, identify and foster new R&D partnerships and develop AFRL’s current and future workforce. The Doolittle Institute is a member of the Defensewerx Family.

For more information, please contact