reach the depot for maintenance and repair. Techniques for doing this are being developed.
Dr. Stevens remarked that sustainment is potentially a very rich application area for activities under the Materials Genome Initiative (MGI), even though the focus of attention has been on MGI objectives for new materials in new applications. For example, if a system in the fleet has a sustainment problem, reducing the time to fix the problem and certify a new material or new parts can go a long way to keeping aircraft flying. There was further discussion among the participants on the potential impact of MGI on sustainability. One participant said that the same tools needed to enable ICME would also enable more rapid qualification or certification of a replacement material or part. Dr. Stevens added that AFRL has projects and programs that support both ICME and MGI. AFRL’s vision for the future is to move away from the current linear paradigm for the material life cycle—in which material and processes research leads sequentially through materials development, component design, component testing, certification/qualification, manufacturing, and sustainment—to an R&D paradigm in which all these stages in the life cycle are examined interactively and in parallel through an integrated approach.
The manufacturing portion of this integrated life-cycle approach includes a concept called “moving manufacturing to the left” (addressing manufacturing issues earlier in the R&D process) and a digital data collection and archiving component called the “cradle-to-grave digital thread.” While the objective of the former is to enable earlier development of game-changing products and manufacturing process technologies, the cradle-to-grave digital thread aims to develop and employ digital environments and tools that increase efficiencies in all stages of the life cycle. Participants noted that one of the challenges for the cradle-to-grave digital thread is capturing computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/ CAM) or computer augmented design and manufacturing (CADAM) materials from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) when a product has gone out of production. The challenge is being made more difficult by cost-cutting decisions not to “buy” the data rights from the OEM contractor at the beginning of the acquisition process. This challenge is not unique to the Air Force.
In response to a question, Dr. Stevens said that much of the responsibility for downstream decisions related to materials availability, environmental issues, and so on appear to have been ceded to the OEMs. James Mattice added that responsibility for issues at a life-cycle level formerly resided in the systems engineering function within the cognizant Program Office for acquisition of a system. Under acquisition reforms dating back to the Goldwater-Nichols Act,1 that responsibility has devolved to the OEM. He sees the new AFLCMC as having the potential to help bring some of that responsibility and engineering expertise back under Air Force
1 Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986, Public Law 99-433.