In 2020, Service de Soutien de la Flotte (SSF), an organisation reporting to the French Navy’s chief of staff and relying on the technical expertise of the Délégation Générale de l’Armement (DGA), took advantage of the project initiated by the French Army. The Navy studied a private blockchain’s ability to secure additive manufacturing to produce spare parts in theatres of operation.
The French Navy used the MainChain blockchain platform to securely exchange technical data to remotely print spare parts. This exercise, which spanned three operating environments (the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier in operation, a port workshop of the fleet support service in mainland France, and the manufacturer Naval Group), validated the repeatability of manufacturing.
The Navy’s goal was to confirm that the processes and manufacturing methods can be applied and repeated in different environments using MainChain-secured data exchanges, ashore and on-board ships where the operating conditions are more demanding.
3D printing to optimize naval maintenance
The SSF, which is responsible for the maintenance in operational condition (MCO) of the French Navy’s surface ships and submarines, is an innovator in the field of additive manufacturing. Indeed, the use of this new manufacturing process makes it possible to no longer have to physically store parts. Additive manufacturing replaces part of the stock necessary for maintenance with electronic storage of a digital design file. The resulting production of spare parts is carried out as close as possible to the need and at the request of the maintainer, which creates a dematerialized supply chain. Additive manufacturing thus guarantees on-demand part availability, which reduces stock management costs.
This technology saves the Navy money and increases operational performance: time savings, optimization of maintenance, reduction of delivery and storage time are all improved when additive manufacturing is thrown into the mix. Indeed, obtaining a military naval quality requires rigorous qualification, as military vessels weather severe conditions. Additive processes must meet strict requirements.
The Navy tested the design of the 3D file, the definition of the machine’s printing parameters, and the file’s secure transmission by printing in three locations. The data is not transmitted in real time, but during a stopover, on return from a mission, or near a coastal area covered by the French military network. This data does not allow the piece produced to be traced. It classifies the transaction as it is carried out and guarantees quality during production.
MainChain secures the end-to-end digital supply chain. It provides data traceability even when offline, guarantees that a designer’s manufacturing processes and methods are respected, and verifies that the 3D printer used during each production run is suitable for the design. The system, in short, ensures the integrity of industrial property during an exchange of digital information. Vistory establishes a relationship of trust between actors with divergent economic interests: the customer (SSF), the user (Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier), the designer of the part Naval Group and the person in charge of the machines (3D printer distributor Stratasys, CAD Vision).
Additive manufacturing to support the French Navy’s Mercator plan
Unveiled in the 2019-2025 Military Programming Law, the French Navy’s Mercator plan aims to modernize the military and achieve technological superiority. In this respect, additive manufacturing, in addition to traditional inventory management and supply chain operations, offers many advantages for the French Navy. These advantages include extending the life of strategic and tactical assets, while building a reactive adaptation strategy for maintenance activities. Equipment downtime must be limited, and the Navy’s resources are thus guaranteed better operational availability.
MainChain offers the possibility to manufacture spare parts on demand, directly on ships deployed in remote environments, thanks to the blockchain technology that animates the system. It contributes to the training of French naval forces in very remote areas and to the modernization of the defense apparatus. This collaboration with the French Navy allows Vistory to expand the presence of secure industrial 3D printing within military organizations.
A joint-army use case
The SIMMT operates the transformation of digital uses in the military operational field and decentralizes spare parts manufacture in overseas operations while preserving data integrity.
The SSF is improving its operational performance thanks to new industrial production means deployed on board on the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier and is focusing its efforts on the integrity of the manufacturing process, which is necessary for repeatability.
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