UK MoD to flex-up supply chain by 3D printing military spares in £5M TAMPA Project

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) is seeking to establish a network of suppliers capable of 3D printing military-grade spare parts on-demand. 

As part of ‘Project TAMPA,’ the MoD aims to create a multi-supplier framework with the capacity to 3D print lighter, stronger metal parts as and when they’re needed. If this can be achieved, the UK government department anticipates being able to drive down military equipment and weaponry lead times, while improving the availability of difficult-to-source obsolete components. 

“Additive manufacturing has the potential to address significant issues within defense such as excessive lead times for defense inventory and the manufacture of obsolete/obsolescent parts,” reads the MoD Project TAMPA contract notice. The authority [the MoD], wishes to enter into a multi-supplier framework arrangement for accelerating the maturity of additive manufacturing… and intends to seek bids for limited innovation funding.”

UK Ministry of Defence sign. Photo via Ministry of Defence.
A sign outside the UK Ministry of Defence’s main building. Photo via the Ministry of Defence.

Meeting UK defense needs with AM 

As identified by a recent World Population Review study, the UK is the fifth-highest spending military power in the world, behind Russia, India, China and the US. Of course, the vast majority of this net $59.2 billion spend is spent on projects unrelated to 3D printing, but the country’s military bodies have previously sought to deploy the technology in a number of trial projects. 

Back in 2019, the MoD outlined plans to use 3D printing and AI to strengthen the UK’s national security. At the time, the ministry identified 3D printable sensors and 3D bioprinting as essential to harnessing “new types of data about human and platform performance.” Since then, the MoD-sponsored Defence Science and Technology Laboratory has begun 3D printing explosives with novel designs, built to cut their cost of storage and transportation. 

Some of the UK’s more recent military additive manufacturing exercises include the development of RAF-3D printed drone swarms. Earlier this year, it was announced that having scrapped its ‘Mosquito’ drone program, the RAF had switched its focus to creating a fleet of UAVs that can be more rapidly produced and deployed. 

A swarm of drones. Photo via the Modern War Institute.
A swarm of drones. Photo via the Modern War Institute.

Flexing-up the MoD supply chain 

Project TAMPA, or to give it its full name, the ‘Metal Additive Manufacturing as a Service Challenge,’ has been set up with two broad goals in mind. According to an MoD contract notice, the ministry sees the program as a chance to “accelerate the maturity of additive manufacturing,” and better utilize it to develop a “more agile response to demand for parts.”

While the MoD hasn’t revealed the nature of the spares it’s looking to produce, it has laid out a set of milestones as well as a deadline for the initiative. With a budget of up to £5 million, Project TAMPA will see suppliers contracted to 3D print various pieces of inventory over the next two to seven years, and make resulting models available across the UK’s defense network. 

In practice, the program is set to be structured around four ‘spirals’ of increasing manufacturing complexity. The first of these will see participants 3D print non-safety critical NATO stock number (NSN) metal parts, before steadily progressing into the production of both polymer and alloy-based spares, manufactured at an industrial site and eventually, from remote locations. 

As you’d expect with a UK military project, there are some provisions for firms considering applying to become part of this network to consider. Applicants must already hold one or more MoD equipment or platform support contract, be familiar with the processes surrounding metal 3D printing certification and have a defense channel network in place, to be considered. 

That said, the MoD says “further funding may be considered” if the project runs for the full seven years, and it has committed to reopening admission on a twice-yearly basis for additional suppliers to join. 

Those interested can access the full terms and conditions and apply to join Project TAMPA now via the UK MoD website.  

The USS Essex in the Arabian Sea. Photo via Brett McMinoway, US Navy,
The USS Essex in the Arabian Sea. Photo via Brett McMinoway, the US Navy.

3D printing in global defense 

While the UK’s MoD continues to experiment with 3D printing, it’s not necessarily the leader in advancing the technology’s military applications. The US Department of Defense, for instance, has taken a strong interest in additive manufacturing, with the US Navy installing a Xerox 3D printer on the USS Essex, and selecting SPEE3D to participate in the MAINTENX exercise, earlier in 2022.

In Europe, meanwhile, HENSOLDT has successfully ground and field tested its 3D printed Kalaetron Attack jammer. Primarily designed for use on jets like the Eurofighter, the device essentially serves to detect and interfere with a wide variety of anti-aircraft radar types, including the most cutting-edge systems. 

During March 2022, French start-up Handddle also announced that it had equipped the French Air and Space Force with a new aerospace 3D printing microfactory. Located in the I3D Workshop at Air Force base 204, the firm’s Smart Farm produces functional prototypes, spares and small batches of parts on-demand. 

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Featured image shows a sign outside the UK Ministry of Defence’s main building. Photo via the Ministry of Defence.