The U.S. Air Force Rapid Sustainment Office (AFRSO) has awarded blockchain innovator SIMBA Chain a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase 1 grant to develop a solution that will ultimately allow the Air Force to manufacture, test, and deploy critical replacement parts for aircraft and other weaponry on forward operating locations and bases around the world using advanced 3D printing supported and secured by blockchain.
SIMBA Chain has teamed with Steel Modular, Inc. to offer the AFRSO a self-contained, mobile 3D manufacturing facility housed in repurposed shipping container. Each 20- or 40-foot disposable container is equipped with all of the components and resources necessary for secure metal and fiber additive 3D manufacturing, final machining, inspection of finished products, and communications. The mobile 3D manufacturing units can be climate controlled for the comfort and protection of military personnel and equipment. And, because the containers are designed to be transported virtually anywhere with their contents, they are ideally suited for AFRSO’s high-tech, battle-ready needs.
The SIMBA Chain solution includes blockchain to secure conversations and information critical to the manufacture of specific parts, and supports the U.S. Air Force and Department of Defense’s strategy to transform engineering practices to digital engineering. The solution will accelerate the AFRSO’s ability to produce tooling, fixtures, support equipment, and aircraft parts when and where needed. Based on the success of the SBIR Phase I, SIMBA Chain stands to be awarded a Phase II worth $1 million.
The 90-day SBIR Phase 1, dubbed “RAD2 CAM-MCB,” was awarded March 8, 2021 and will determine the feasibility of deploying the mobile 3D additive manufacturing facilities to austere locations such as battlefields. The U.S. Airforce Maintenance Enterprise is looking to lean into commercial off-the-shelf technology already in use in private sector maintenance and manufacturing organizations like SIMBA Chain, ITAMCO and Steel Modular, and build collaborations across the U.S. Air Force Maintenance Enterprise.
SIMBA Chain CEO Joel Neidig says the ultimate goal of the project is to leverage additive manufacturing so the Air Force can design and product parts in days rather than months, respond faster to combat equipment needs on bases and overseas battlefields, and help backfill parts for aging but still serviceable planes for which there are no commercially available replacement parts.
“At the heart of this project is enabling and safeguarding the digital supply chain and that’s exactly where SIMBA Chain flexes its muscles,” Neidig explained. “Our blockchain technology ensures data integrity and protects against tampering of intellectual property and communications. Sophisticated hackers are a very real threat and deploying SIMBA Chain globally and on a distributed, decentralized basis, provides an unhackable barrier and protects supply chain governance.”
Among the hard problems recognized by the Air Force Battle Damage Assessment and Repair (BDAR) of forward deployed forces and the critical need to deliver the right part to the right place at the right time and in the right quantity—something easier said than done when in the heat of battle with lives depending on keeping aircraft and weaponry operational.
SIMBA Chain and partner Steel Modular are betting their rapidly deployable, self-contained additive manufacturing facilities are exactly what Air Force Rapid Sustainment Office is looking for to support the warfighter within a rapid, austere, and controlled supply chain environment, and in terms of deployability, functionality, affordability, and ecofriendly design.
Steel Modular Founder and Chairman Kelly Freis is pleased that the Air Force is looking to successful companies from the private sector to develop this next generation of critical parts manufacturing and digitally empowered supply chains. “We are honored to have been awarded this SBIR with SIMBA Chain and have the opportunity to use our modular structures in such a novel way. We look forward to proving out our concept to the benefit of the Air Force and other military branches.”
SIMBA Chain’s cloud-based blockchain platform is increasingly the “go-to” solution for the U.S. Department of Defense for projects seeking a means to share and secure information in a manner that is immutable, transparent and verifiable. Once stored on blockchain, data can’t be changed or deleted, creating a trust factor not afforded by other data sharing/storage solutions.