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Home3D PrintingProduct Life Cycle and 3D Printing in the Defense Sector

Product Life Cycle and 3D Printing in the Defense Sector


Meet Innovative Algorithms, a certified Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business that provides leading-edge innovations for security and defense. This company has taken a low-cost desktop 3D printer and produced a stable end product used as a component in a complex defense system. Join us to discover how Innovative Algorithms graduated from experimental prototyping to finished product utilizing 3D printing.

In industry, additive manufacturing and desktop 3D printing are used extensively in the design and prototyping phase of a full product solution. It is a well known that companies and/or organizations that do not participate in these iterative prototyping processes are being left behind. Now, 3D printing has made inroads into the manufacturing process, from the design and manufacture of jigs and fixtures to low rate production of components as part of product assemblies. Innovative Algorithms, a leading-edge provider of innovations for security and defense, has taken full advantage of 3D printing capabilities. With its Phalanx Shield™ solution, desktop 3D printing has become an integral tool in providing advanced capabilities and parts to the Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other governmental agencies and organizations.

The Phalanx Shield

The Phalanx Shield

Procurement of products and services in the DoD falls under the purview of the Defense Acquisition System. Acquisition of physical products in this domain is analogous to the full product life cycle that is common in most industries. The process begins where needs and/or capability gaps are analyzed and requirements are gathered to determine if existing products or solutions exist. If nothing exists to meet the stated requirements, then the initial phase of the product life cycle begins in earnest.

An example of DoD’s product lifecycle in action is of the Phalanx Shield™ solution. The genesis of the Phalanx Shield™ can be traced to the past experience of Innovative Algorithms Founder/CEO, Jay Chesnut. Jay’s time as a Naval Aviator exposed him to the need for improved, sustainable security and surveillance systems that were not currently available. As a result of real-time events, Phalanx Shield™ was developed to improve DoD’s and DHS’s existing capabilities.  Currently, Phalanx Shield™ has been tested and proven through two Technology Readiness Assessments (TRAs) and is designated at Technology Readiness Level 8 (TRL 8), a level where features, interfaces, and materials are proven and validated to support full production. What is so remarkable about the TRL 8 designation is that the current Phalanx Shield™  solution has desktop 3D printed components. At low production levels, 3D printed components will continue to be part of the end product.  This results in the savings realized by the avoidance of tooling and molds, and also in a cost and time savings provided by on-demand, Just In Time (JIT) fabrication processes. The savings is a direct result of the introduction of 3D printing to the product lifecycle.

With the success of the Phalanx Shield™ solution, Innovative Algorithms is exploring other areas in which 3D printing may be used in other aspects of the product lifecycle. Sustainability is one area that is ripe for change where product inventories are dictated and the repair and reconfiguration of existing products and solutions are facilitated by 3D printing. Whatever the case, 3D printing is certain to be an integral capability as part of the full product lifecycle.


Procurement of products and services by the DoD is a little more involved than just using a credit card to shop online. Many of the products that are needed by the DoD, DHS and other governmental entities have specialized requirements that effectively exclude many off-the-shelf products. Many times this is a result of the environment in which the product will be used. Often when in harsh terrain or where products will be handled roughly, the solution will need to be “hardened” to withstand shock, impact, temperature fluctuations and hostile environments. As a result, new and/or existing technologies need to be designed and fabricated not only to operate but to survive in these adverse conditions. This is the reason why many tools and products procured by DoD and other governmental agencies have a higher cost than similar solutions in the commercial sector.

With additive manufacturing and desktop 3D printing, the acquisition life cycle is poised to save on the cost of development, prototyping, fabrication, and sustainability of the product and product solutions in comparison to the traditional life cycle. In addition, what is often lost in the quantitative analysis is the increased productivity, innovation, collaboration and improved quality afforded by 3D printing. According to Tasha Keeney, an ARK Investment Analyst, “3D printing will collapse the time between design and production. It will shorten lead times, reduce prototype costs, produce lighter products and provide for greater design complexity in manufacturing.” All of these elements are realized due to the capabilities that 3D brings to the procurement table.

As in the commercial sector, governmental organizations are attempting to understand how 3D printing technologies will affect the way they do business and how they will procure, deploy and sustain full product solutions over the life cycle of the product. Many envision a total supply chain transformation of delivering fabrication capabilities closer to the end user. Other areas of transformation include system maintenance, logistics and the ability to produce hard-to-source parts. Even while DoD, DHS and other governmental entities are exploring how desktop 3D printing and additive manufacturing will affect their acquisition model, they may be able to take some cues from their product suppliers in the commercial sector.

Problem Definition

The overall acquisition challenge is to determine how vendors, suppliers, and contractors will meet the needs of military and governmental customers in delivering product solutions in a timely manner and at a reduced cost.

High-Level Solution

Innovative Algorithms is a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business that provides leading-edge innovations for security and defense.  The company realized that the only way to deliver products and solutions on time and at reduced cost was to utilize the capabilities provided by desktop 3D printing. As a result, Innovative Algorithms has utilized a low-cost desktop 3D printer has taken an experimental prototype and delivered a finished product that is being used today.

During the development of the Phalanx Shield™ capability, 3D printing was utilized from the start. According to Innovative Algorithms Founder/CEO, Jay Chesnut, “3D printing gave us the freedom to innovate and take chances. Only through 3D printing could we actively explore, progress and validate a complete solution that exceeded the customer’s needs and requirements.” During the design and prototyping phase (see Figure 2), 3D printing was pivotal in the iterative design process. Iterative design increases productivity and innovation by allowing the designer to prototype and test several options before narrowing in on a final design. It also improves the quality of the end product by making sure that all components integrate and operate well before spending resources on tooling and fabrication.

Initial Prototype

Initial Prototype

During the past four years, the selection of source materials and filament for desktop 3D printers has increased dramatically. The original desktop filament selections of ABS and PLA have given way to product ready materials such as TPE, TPU, Nylon, PETG, and Polycarbonate. The product of choice for the exterior and interior casing of the Phalanx Shield™ sensor was PETG. “PETG has been a great material to meet the requirements of durability and ability to withstand harsh conditions required by our customers,” stated Chesnut.

Outer Casing

Outer Casing

PETG proved to be a good material for prototyping as well as an excellent material for the final product. “We have yet to receive an order large enough to justify injection molding,” stated Chesnut. “We have already coordinated with a few injection molders who will be able to transition from 3D printing to full-scale production. In order to do that, we will need an order in the low hundreds to justify using injection molding. Since we take extra effort in the post-processing of the housing, most don’t even know they are 3D printed. Those that don’t are surprised we were able to achieve such a high level of quality.” Innovative Algorithms realized that desktop 3D printing provided a flexible end solution at a reasonable cost and without having to allocate the time and resources necessary for tooling, injection molding, and full production.

Completed Sensor Before Exterior Finishing

Completed Sensor Before Exterior Finishing

Solution Details

The Phalanx Shield™ unmanned ground sensor system was derived from a real-world need and developed and produced utilizing advanced technologies to include desktop 3D printing. Previous sensors lacked durability and the capability to adapt to changing conditions and network configurations. Solutions to this need were then easily explored and developed utilizing advanced networking technologies, power sources and 3D printing.

With 3D printing, rapid prototyping truly became rapid. Designs were configured, reconfigured and iterated on a daily basis. Functional prototypes utilizing a range of materials and components were easily produced and variations were placed in a real-world A/B testing environment. The final prototype and proposed solution were then ready for Technology Readiness Assessments (TRAs) on two different occasions while working through the DoD acquisition process. Chesnut stated that “3D printing provided an enormous amount of flexibility while going through the acquisition process. We were able to better define the requirements and even adapt better product form and function without losing any time during the process.”

According to Chesnut, “As we progressed from TRL 3 to TRL 5, we were able to iterate with different form factors. Progressing from TRL 5 to TRL 8, we were able to satisfy ergonomic and tactile considerations to make a product customers want to touch and feel. Every company wants a potential customer to fall in love with your product, or at least think it’s cool to touch and hold.”

The Phalanx Shield™ product solution was able to achieve a Technology Readiness Level 8 (TRL 8) with its current design utilizing PETG as a 3D printed source material (see Figure 5). “PETG provided the necessary tensile strength and stability while leaving enough options for customer changes before we go to TRL 9,” stated Chesnut. “This is the great advantage of 3D printing before transitioning to high rate injection molding.”

Finished Product

Finished Product

Business Benefits

The experience of Innovative Algorithms with desktop 3D printing is not unique. Many companies and organizations in the defense domain are experiencing the same results. Organizations are recording cost savings not only on the design and development end but also on downstream functions such as production, fielding, and sustainment. Iterative, repeatable processes save time and accelerate the speed of innovation. Functional prototypes utilizing a wide range of materials are now the norm and product solution companies can even explore the form and function of end products before transitioning to full production. Mass customization and production on an as needed, JIT basis are now possible. All of this has been realized on the initial insertion of desktop 3D printing capabilities.

Planned Next Generation Design

Planned Next Generation Design

Interior of Case for Planned Next Generation Design

Interior of Case for Planned Next Generation Design


The acquisition of products and services by the DoD, DHS and other governmental agencies has just experienced the first wave of the effects of additive manufacturing and 3D printing. Subsequent waves will encompass, low volume production, virtual inventory, product enhancement and obsolescence mitigation. From an inventory perspective, the ability to manufacture parts on-site could lead to a significant reduction in excess inventory. The Navy, for example, found $7.5 billion worth of excess inventory in 2008.

This opportunity for cost reduction along the entire product lifecycle is a huge motivation for adoption of this technology. According to Lieutenant Commander Michael E. Kenney of the Naval Postgraduate School, use of additive manufacturing in the acquisition life cycle would produce a “…return on investment of 221.24%.” Commander Kenney also stated that through additive manufacturing in the maintenance cycle“…the amount of rework was reduced by 45%, affecting and thereby reducing the amount of time to produce and repair parts from 39.5 man hours to 22.7 man hours, a reduction of 57%.”  These are powerful arguments for the implementation and use of 3D printing technologies.

As additive manufacturing and desktop 3D printing capabilities have evolved, so have the real world scenarios and end use cases. Those that wait to ride the 3D printing technology wave may well be left behind. It is imperative that all product and service manufacturers explore the integration of this technology into their individual business processes to remain competitive.


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