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DARPA's Plan to Speed Up New Material Development Could Shave Years Off Process

August 4, 2014
By Sandra Jontz
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U.S. Defense Department officials are turning to science and engineering to reduce drastically the time it takes to develop military platforms—from ships to aircraft and ground vehicles.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) instituted a new program to improve on the methodology and tool set and to cut the applied material development process by at least 75 percent, according to the agency. Currently, the process can take an average of 10 years or more, but DARPA’s Materials Development for Platforms (MDP) program aims to reduce the time to 2.5 years. The agency proposes doing so by establishing what officials say is a cross-disciplinary model that incorporates materials science and engineering, or the Integrated Computational Materials Engineering (ICME) principles, and the platform development disciplines of engineering, design, analysis and manufacturing.

“In this program, we want to move from the current mindset of sporadic ‘pushes’ in materials technology development to a mindset that ‘pulls’ materials technology forward driven by platform design intent and mission need,” Mick Maher, DARPA program manager, says in a statement. “Ideally, we could envision materials development happening on time scales more in line with modern commercial automobile development.”

DARPA plans to test the concept using a hypersonic platform design, a “bold and pressing challenge, since hypersonic vehicles operate under extreme conditions that push state-of-the-art materials to their thermal, chemical and structural limits,” according to DARPA. Via MDP, DARPA plans to test and, hopefully, develop and manufacture new materials for the vehicle’s outer shell within 2.5 years.

“A key to the program’s success will be integrating expertise from a wide range of relevant technical disciplines,” Maher says. “We want to reach out to potential performers in all of the relevant scientific and engineering communities—and from both large companies and small businesses—so they can team together to create the most effective solutions possible.”

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