Supply-Chain Disruptions a Threat to Maintenance of Infrastructure, Critical Equipment

The workshop’s first day examined additive manufacturing of large structures.(1) Advances in three-dimensional (3D) printing technology have increasingly been applied to create structures such as buildings and bridges using metal, concrete, and concrete-like materials.(2) In military contexts, additive manufacturing or 3D-printing approaches could open the door to new types of designs or new types of materials for constructing infrastructure such as runways, housing, piers, and bridges in forward environments. The potential to use indigenous or waste materials, for example, could enable rapid, adaptive construction of large structures in remote locations, which has important implications for supply logistics as well as for failure prediction, testing, and qualification. Workshop speakers examined recent advances in large-scale 3D printing, alternative methods for producing cement, and other cutting-edge construction materials and techniques in the civilian and military sphere. During the discussions, participants addressed standards, site conditions, and workflows for printing of large structures, along with sustainability, lifespan, and workforce considerations related to developing novel concrete alternatives.

The workshop’s second day focused on asset monitoring and supply chain issues. Military systems—particularly electronic systems—are complex and vulnerable to degradation in extreme operating environments, yet it is often infeasible to repair individual components of these systems at forward operating bases or under threat conditions. This makes it important for system failures and service needs to be predictable, especially in the context of mission-critical systems in remote or adversarial conditions. Promptly and effectively addressing failures requires optimization across the full supply chain. To address these needs, speakers and panelists examined the role of sensing technologies and innovations in supply chain management, drawing lessons from industries such as aerospace, the automotive industry, and e-commerce. Participants discussed opportunities afforded by digital twins and other tools, possibilities for expansion and reshoring of advanced manufacturing, and workforce needs in this space.

For the final day, participants turned to opportunities and challenges related to sustained operations in space. As technologies for on-orbit servicing, assembly, and manufacturing have advanced, it has become increasingly feasible to envision creating space-based infrastructure such as transiently inhabited bases on the Moon and Mars, on-orbit refueling stations, in situ resource utilization capabilities, and a full supply chain for space activities. With its lack of gravity, the space environment could also offer intriguing benefits for manufacturing activities and the use of novel materials, potentially allowing for designs that would not be feasible on Earth. With an eye toward these exciting possibilities but also the many challenges involved, participants examined how autonomous, robotic systems, large-scale additive manufacturing techniques, lunar indigenous materials, and novel manufacturing methods could be leveraged to advance a wide range of activities in space.

(1) Additive manufacturing does not only have to be 3D printing as discussed in this workshop, it can also relate to the use of building blocks such as the FBR HadrianX block laying robot.

(2) This workshop includes several discussions about concrete. It is worth remembering the following: Concrete is fabricated by mixing cement powder, some form(s) of agglomerate, and large quantities of water. The mechanical strength of concrete increases over time as the curing process proceeds.