|Panelists:||Tom Kurfess, Georgia Institute of Technology|
|Mick Maher, DARPA|
|Eric Nyberg, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory|
|Discussion leader:||Bob Schafrik, DMMI|
A panel session focused on summarizing the earlier presentations on armor, structure, and automotive issues. The panelists included Tom Kurfess of the Georgia Institute of Technology, Mick Maher of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and Eric Nyberg of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Bob Schafrik led the discussion.
Mick Maher started by noting that for most products, not simply military vehicles, the materials cycle is out of sync with the development cycle, meaning that materials can be available when there are no products to take advantage of them. Alternatively, aerospace and automotive communities may be too late for new products that have to go into production. He also noted that they have different attitudes on composites. The automotive industry spent billions of dollars in the 1980s to develop precision sheet metal technology. It now has large infrastructure costs and will be unlikely to spend billions of dollars for new machines. Nevertheless, companies such as Ford, he said, are looking at composites.
Kurfess agreed about the infrastructure issues, but he added that it is not only big automotive companies that have this problem, it is the entire supply chain. He also added that Toyota tends to be very conservative and is unlikely to create a new
production line and a new vehicle at the same time. A new material would concern the company. Kurfess suggested that a better approach would be direct material substitution so that companies can learn from it and then later redesign to take better advantage of it.
Nyberg said that conservative attitudes and existing infrastructure are not the only things that quickly lead to resistance to change. He said that there are certain design tools that have been used for 30 years, as well as performance data, and users are comfortable with them and also have confidence in them. He added that although additive manufacturing has many attractive qualities, many of the benefits are lost when the technology is moved to large-scale production. He added that a good modeling capability is necessary or a lot more testing will be required to determine the qualities of the material.
Schafrik noted the inherent problems of determining costs. For instance, there is the contradiction between life-cycle costs and the initial production cost. He continued that an armored vehicle might be expensive to make, but then will be in service for a very long time. What matters to the decision makers, he noted, is the initial cost. They may cancel projects because the initial cost is too high, even though that cost would be amortized over a long period for a vehicle that, if produced, might then be in service for decades. A few of the workshop participants then discussed the differences between the automotive industry and the military vehicle industry. The most important difference, some of them stated, is the number of vehicles produced. An automotive company might produce millions of vehicles per year whereas the Army might require only 100. McGrath asked whether it would be possible to produce the military vehicles on existing commercial automotive lines. One participant noted that one car company has developed flexible, reconfigurable manufacturing lines that can be switched over to a new vehicle model on very short notice (essentially over a weekend). This approach offers some flexibility for military production, but the problem is not necessarily the production line but the suppliers—particularly those supplying small subcomponents, which are usually small companies. The supply chain may not be resilient, even if the production line can be made more flexible and responsive.
McGrath suggested that this will require a change in mindset from the military as well, including a willingness to accept a commercial process. Nyberg pointed out that Caterpillar, which manufactures large construction equipment, might be a better analogy for the military than commercial automotives. Several workshop participants did not think that the proper analogy was a commercial vehicle company, but that the military might be able to leverage commercial industry for parts.
One workshop participant disagreed completely, saying that Army armored vehicles and commercial vehicles are nothing alike. He added that commercial vehicles have entirely different incentives and goals. For example, commercial vehicles have
a continuous market, not the stop-and-start market that the U.S. military provides for armored vehicles.
Deshpande stated that new technology such as additive manufacturing offered some solutions. “If you want a tank, 3D print it,” he said. The machine can be programmed to produce something else when the tank is not required. This could be highly valuable because labor-intensive machining operations are very expensive. But Gardner suggested that the problem is certifying the final part, which is difficult with additive manufacturing. Instead, he suggested that one should 3D print the mold, which does not have to be certified, and then use the mold to make the final parts with more traditional manufacturing methods.
Wadley asked whether the Germans have migrated their automotive activities into tank manufacturing. Kurfess responded that they have not. German civilian companies tend to avoid working on military equipment.
The discussion eventually turned to the issue of risk assessment and modeling and how it affects the automotive industry. Kurfess explained that the automotive industry has a lot of data, which makes it easier to quantify the risk of new materials. It also starts small, learns from experience, and then adjusts. But it has a lot of available data. Modeling is also one of the factors driving continued use of aluminum for military vehicles. It is a lot easier to model aluminum behavior than many new materials. This prompted Maher to note that it is not always possible to make a better model, and, at some point, it is necessary to draw a line on when to stop improving the model and rely more on testing than modeling.
Chong made a final point that the advent of unmanned military systems offers an opportunity to bridge the divide between current and new materials. These unmanned systems are lower in cost and attritable—that is, they can be lost. Thus, she said, they represent a good place to introduce new materials to see how they perform, because if the new materials do not work out, then the risk is limited. If they do work out, they can be transferred to the more expensive human vehicles.