A newly operational advanced manufacturing center on the Rock Island Arsenal will streamline the Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center's production of parts used in Army equipment around the world.
Community and military leaders joined Arsenal and JMTC officials on Wednesday to celebrate the Advanced Manufacturing Center of Excellence becoming partly operational. The U.S. Army contributed $20 million in funding to equip the factory with some of the latest advanced manufacturing technology.
Project Manager Randl Besse said the 21 new additive manufacturing machines include 3D printers to produce metal and plastic parts, such as clips for soldiers' uniforms, gun grips, specialized tools and robotic equipment.
"What we're doing with the additive manufacturing center is really changing how the Army can do business in order to get parts in our war fighters' hands," Besse said. "With additive manufacturing, we have the ability to produce limited quantity parts that could not be produced conventionally and make them in different configurations."
The goal, Besse said, is to produce and supply Army units with needed parts in around 96 hours — hoping to shorten production time to compete with private companies.
"At the end of the day, the goal is to get parts quicker and augment the conventional supply system," he said. "Being the Army's Center of Excellence, we are basically the hub of activity for the Army when it comes to additive manufacturing parts. A soldier can request a part through an internet-enabled device, then we can print a part, get it on a truck and get it to them."
Last year, Gen. Gustave Perna, commander of the Army Materiel Command, and other officials approved the plan to invest in the JMTC's advanced manufacturing capabilities. It includes guidelines for implementing new policies, training, research and equipment.
Col. Ken Letcher, JMTC commander, said the new production capabilities are one part of creating an "Army-wide ecosystem." JMTC is building a network including industry partners, academia and Department of Defense manufacturing hubs.
"It's not just a commercial network with commercial companies that are either printing or providing consulting services, but its a DOD network," Letcher said in a news release. "It's an academic network. It's that DOD manufacturing hub network. It's the conglomeration of all that which allows us and is going to allow us to be successful."
For now, Besse said the investment has not included additional jobs. More than 1,100 work at the JMTC.
"We're not necessarily adding jobs, we're adding skill sets," he said. "We're taking individuals in our engineering departments, engineering techs, and machinists, and bringing them here and training on this equipment."
He said the center is designed so more machinery can be added in the future, depending on additional investments from the Army.
Officials expect the Advanced Manufacturing Center of Excellence to reach full operating capacity in 2021.