By Lt. Cdr. Toy Andrews, M.SAME, USN, Randy Rapp, Ph.D., P.E., Emad Elwakil, Ph.D., P.E., PMP, J. Eric Dietz, Ph.D., P.E., and Sam Baroudi, Ph.D.
On March 11, 2020, the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization. The United States announced a national emergency two days later, setting in motion response efforts to contain the outbreak. Logisticians around the military, especially those supporting medical facility resupply and normal base operations, found many of their normal suppliers shut down or on limited operations in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. Now months later, as bases around the country have restarted limited normal operations, this is the opportune time to develop solid waste management partnerships with installation neighbors to strengthen resource resilience against any future disruption while bringing forth an overall higher level of readiness.
Additive manufacturing, as known as 3D printing, is a rapidly advancing technology that is already being implemented across each service branch to get mission-critical parts into use faster and at exacting specifications. However, while this technology allows for rapid production, it still requires the relative slower procurement of feedstock, or the materials for the machines to “print.”
By partnering with local communities, feedstock can become available on-demand without the typical parts problems of shipping delays, wrong sizes being ordered, or degradation. Through nonprofits, recycling projects, and public-private ventures, procuring the needed feedstock for multi-material additive manufacturing can support local jobs and opportunities, in addition to critical and timely support for the warfighter, and faster resolution for base operations and maintenance supply needs.
POTENTIALS FOR PRINTING
Within the uniformed services, aircraft and equipment components run into the challenge of superseded designs or a particular part of an assembly having no current production line. Sometimes the company that made a specific component has gone out of business, leaving procurement officers without a replacement available. Matching schematic drawings or scans of current parts has led to an on-demand revolution in hard-to-source parts. Additive manufacturing offers a potential to deliver these parts in a timely manner. In the civilian sector, Precious Plastic, an open hardware plastic recycling project, employs designs from the digital commons to turn multiple types of plastics into components to furniture, décor, and tools. Recently, this technology was also used to quickly make personal protective equipment for COVID-19 frontline workers.
Another benefit that additive manufacturing offers is rapid prototyping capabilities. This allows for innovative applications to the challenges in the upkeep of a machine or networked system of components. For example, the creation of a tool for the inspection of fuel tanks for about $15 a piece at RAF Mildenhall in the United Kingdom resulted in savings of at least $1.5 million a year. Similar savings could be found across the other services, from a forward-operating quartermaster getting the right steering column housing for a Humvee to a Marine air maintainer printing off the replacement spacer in a critical engine connection on an MV-22.
A feedstock reclamation and processing center (also known as a materials recovery facility) near an installation would help lower the costs for local municipalities to acquire feedstock materials, rebalance the environmental commitment portfolios of installation managers, and lower or recoup recycling and trash disposal costs.
When speed is a critical factor, on-demand printing of the right parts enables a warfighter to keep the pressure on. The same speed of response is great for those that maintain a base. In order to make the best use of the speed afforded by additive manufacturing, however, feedstock, or the materials used to “print” items, needs to be acquired with similar speed. Coordinating with local communities to recycle unwanted material is one potential approach for the timely acquisition of feedstock. Nonprofits such as The Recycling Partnership can serve as a template of this coordination among municipalities and business-to-business enterprises. The group has been an advocate and coordinator to drive continuous improvement in recycling programs across the country by building networks of suppliers and consumers of the materials, creating not only a healthier and more sustainable environment, but also a stronger and more resiliently integrated economy.
The potential and realized economic impacts of the partnership get the benefit of the localized, circular economy too. Models of other public-private joint ventures already exist, such as housing solutions near and on-base or wastewater treatment modernizations. A feedstock reclamation and processing center (also known as a materials recovery facility) near an installation would help lower the costs for local municipalities to acquire feedstock materials, rebalance the environmental commitment portfolios of installation managers, and lower or recoup recycling and trash disposal costs. Sending recycling and trash out of the base’s gates costs money, so why not recoup or lower those costs altogether?
An innovation center of reclaiming and providing feedstock will further small business opportunities. And outside of the millions of dollars saved on creating a one-of-a-kind part to assist a servicemember, base operators also will save on disposal fees in the form of diversion savings.
CREATING JOBS AND ENGAGEMENT
The social impacts of a new public-private partnership enterprise include re-employment assistance and job training centers for skills development. Youth groups will have a chance to see the skills of the circular economy in action, the teamwork of the venture, as well as the STEM fields in an applied setting. Social advocates in back-to-work initiatives, like RecycleForce, retrain formally incarcerated workers in a trade with a set of skills applicable to other manual industries. Other factory line or manual labor workers can also put their experience to use through this enterprise. Lastly, the environmental impacts are clear and worth exploring on more than the “green” merits they clearly have, as businesses commit to diversify their portfolios and invest in sustainability. An atmosphere of learning and active engagement in an issue many youth value highly can serve as an effective recruiting tool.
As bases look to enhance the steps they are taking to help surrounding communities and the people they call neighbors, this partnership could create a lasting bond and synergy around each installation. Opportunity in and around the base for a better future keep the services relevant in their regions and give back in the form of expert training and resilient-minded management.
Lt. Cdr. Toy Andrews, M.SAME, USN, is a Purdue Military Research Institute Fellow, Randy Rapp, Ph.D., P.E., is Associate Professor, Emad Elwakil, Ph.D., P.E., PMP, is Associate Professor, and J. Eric Dietz, Ph.D., P.E., is Professor, Purdue Polytechnic Institute. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and email@example.com.
Sam Baroudi, Ph.D., is Program Director/Senior Lecturer, University of Adelaide; firstname.lastname@example.org.
[This article first published in the Sept-Oct 2020 issue of The Military Engineer.]