Going on a mission without spare parts but with 3D printers; it’s not that far yet. However, the Royal Netherlands Army is in the process of rolling out an additive manufacturing roadmap and embedding AM in day-to-day operations. Together with DiManEx, parts have been selected for 3D printing and the first steps are being taken towards digital warehousing. The real change, however, lies in the way of thinking, the cultural shift.
“From a logistic point of view our vision is that operational units are as self-supporting as possible when they go on a mission. Maybe they print the parts themselves, maybe they use local 3D printing companies or we set up 3D hubs for NATO-member states,” says Major Stephan Wildenberg. He is Staff Officer Land Maintenance Initiative at the Matlogco of the Royal Netherlands Army. On 27 October, he will speak with Tibor van Melsem Kocsis, CEO and founder of DiManEx, at the Virtual AM for Defense Conference about how the Dutch Army is working with DiManEx on the transition from physical stocks to digital warehouses. Major Stephan Wildenberg and Tibor van Melsem will focus on the role of change management in the process and how defense can influence the supply chain in this transition.
Royal Netherlands Army and DiManEx take first steps towards digital warehousing
Smart and robust logistics
Stephan Wildenberg has been working on innovation projects within the material logistics command (Matlogco) of the Royal Netherlands Army for several years. From the Smart and Robust Logistics study, the logistics units must support the operational and supporting Army units in a smarter and more innovative way. Additive manufacturing is one of the innovations under consideration. “Internally, polymer printers were already being experimented with, but it got not much beyond the ‘play area’,” says Major Stephan Wildenberg. Together with TNO, a plan has been written to take additive manufacturing to a higher level and business cases have been drawn up. Ultimately, the strategic plan was worked out into a roadmap AM. “We want to carry on and incorporate it into existing business operations.
Battle management repair with AM
Initially, he sees the role of additive manufacturing mainly in the operational field, the battle management repair. “Responding fast to the problem of defect parts by (temporary) solutions, which can then be replaced by the regular part”, Stephan Wildenberg explains. The experiences gained during a mission to Mali are positive. In the longer term, this mainly concerns the digitization of the warehouses, where spare parts sometimes remain unused for decades. “Defence is about guaranteeing the availability and deployability of the equipment, just like the railroads. For this purpose, we are looking at which parts can be digitized so that we can have them 3D printed if necessary,” adds Tibor van Melsem of DiManEx.
Change management is the biggest challengeTibor van Melsem Kocsis, DiManEx
Ordering spare parts from a platform
This is the long term step that Royal Netherlands Army wants to take together with the Dutch company DiManEx. The DiManEx platform helps organizations to quickly identify which parts are suitable for 3D printing, both technically and from a business point of view. Subsequently, the – mostly – old 2D drawings are converted into a digital twin. If the Ministry of Defence approves the parts, they will be placed on the platform in the digital warehouse of the Ministry of Defence, from where the parts can be printed directly, on the army’s own printers or within the worldwide DiManEx network. Tibor van Melsem: “We identify, select, digitize and produce. Defense will have access to this platform to order parts”. Additive manufacturing offers the advantage that defense no longer has to purchase minimal order sizes, which is often the case nowadays.
Culture change the biggest hurdle
In their presentation at the Virtual AM for Defense Conference, Stephan Wildenberg and Tibor van Melsom will emphasize the cultural mindshift that additive manufacturing and digitizing warehouses requires. Not only in the army, but also throughout the entire supply chain. “Change management is the biggest challenge,” says Tibor. “At the moment, the solution for uncertainty and unpredictability of demand is often to fill warehouses with stock. Now we are going to look at the supply chain in a holistic way to solve issues. That requires a different way of looking for everyone involved”. If top management wants to digitize warehouses, Tibor gives as an example, purchase managers have to conclude contracts for the digital drawings in the form of a ‘pay-per-print’ contract.
Getting the supply chain
The second point in which the two take a deep dive during their presentation is how contracts with suppliers are going to change if you want to implement this change. Many OEMs derive a significant portion of their profits from the aftermarket. “The minimum order unit in additive manufacturing is 1. A number of companies have understood that they need to change, but others have not yet. How to get the supply chain involved in this change?” Defence wants to involve suppliers in the transition in such a way that they become part of it. Today these suppliers do not yet feel a threat, which means that there is no need to implement AM. “Additive manufacturing is a mindshift,” concludes Major Stephan Wildenberg. “It’s more than just a technology. It’s about a changing way of thinking about the entire supply and value chain, including all prerequisites”.
Major Stephan Wildenberg and Tibor van Melsem Kocsis will give their presentation on 27 October. More about the Virtual AM for Defense Conference can be found here.