Forging Future Weapons Material Evolution

COL Martin Hendrix
U.S. Army Rock Island Arsenal

From Armor & Mobility, March/April 2020

Colonel Martin James “Jimmy” Hendrix III serves as the 50th commander of the Rock Island Arsenal Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center (RIA-JMTC), a position he has held since May 29, 2019. As Commanding Officer, Colonel Hendrix oversees operations of a multi-purpose and vertically integrated metal manufacturer in the Department of Defense, applying the unique technical expertise and equipment to manufacture products high in quality and sustainability.

Colonel Hendrix completed the Reserve Officer Training Course at Appalachian State University and was given a Regular Army commission as a 2LT in the Ordnance Corps on the 11th of August 1996.

Since his commissioning, he has performed unit leadership duties ranging from platoon leader to battalion commander. In addition to leading Army formations, he has served in various positions as a staff officer, an instructor, an aide de camp, and an executive officer.

His prior units of assignment include: the 227th Maintenance Battalion, 264th Corps Support Battalion, 498th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment, U.S. Army Logistics Management College, U.S. Army Ordnance School, 3rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), 19th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), 1st Sustainment Command (Theater), 8th U.S. Army, United States Forces Korea, Combined Forces Command, Korea, and the Army Staff.

His most recent assignments include Battalion Commander of the Army Field Support Battalion – Bragg, the Chief of the Personnel Development Office, U.S. Army Ordnance School, and the Assistant Chief of Staff for Support Operations, 3rd ESC. COL Hendrix has served overseas in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Republic of Korea. His stateside assignments include duty at Fort Bragg, Fort Lee, and Fort Carson as well as at the Pentagon.

A&M had the opportunity to speak with COL Martin Hendrix, Commander, U.S. Army Rock Island Arsenal (RIA), IL, regarding focus areas of RIA’s Joint Manufacturing Center in promoting combat weapons material readiness of tomorrow.

A&M: The Rock Island Arsenal – Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center, or RIA-JMTC, is one-of-a kind in the Department of Defense because all the manufacturing capabilities and processes under one roof. What are some of those capabilities?

COL Hendrix: RIA-JMTC’s capability set is unlike any other due to all of the capabilities we have located under “one roof.” We are home to one of the few foundries and forges in the DoD. That gives us the capability to melt raw metal and cast it into near net shape parts or forge extremely strong metal components. We have more than 1,000 machines that give us the ability to turn, mill, grind, saw, drill, laser cut, water jet, and hone in order to create parts ranging from small springs to several thousand-pound armor kits.

We can weld, heat treat, plate, and paint significant volumes of material. We also have in-house rapid prototyping, engineering and laboratory services, non-destructive testing and pliable materials fabrication.

On top of all of our traditional manufacturing competencies, in 2019, we opened the Army’s Advanced Manufacturing Center of Excellence which has provided us the ability to 3D print both polymer and metal parts.

A&M: The Army designated RIA-JMTC as the Advanced and Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence. How are you using this advancing technology to meet the needs of the Army and other customers?

COL Hendrix: RIA-JMTC was designated as the Center of Excellence in the spring of 2018 and reached initial operating capability the following spring. It is projected to reach full operating capability in 2021.

Advanced manufacturing (AM) is the combination of any new, innovative technology with traditional manufacturing to improve products or processes. Examples include additive manufacturing (e.g. 3D printing), robotics, artificial intelligence and composite materials. This is a modernization of our infrastructure, training, processes and skillsets to support next-generation capabilities. Modernization of the Army’s Organic Industrial Base must keep pace with the modernization of the Army’s equipment. The OIB must have the upgraded facilities and machinery necessary to manufacture, retool and maintain the next-generation of technology and equipment.

RIA-JMTC is leveraging the full potential of advanced manufacturing to enable modernization and readiness objectives. Obsolete parts, diminishing sources of supply and sustained global operations challenge Army readiness.

Advanced manufacturing enables:

  • Increased system performance through lighter and stronger materials.
  • Decreased design limitations imposed by traditional methods. Design for performance, not manufacturability.
  • Production of complex components as one piece, reducing failure points and increasing reliability.
  • Reduced development time by rapidly producing prototypes and quickly transitioning them to production.
  • Rapidly scaled production to field greater quantities of systems faster.
  • Collaboration with innovative vendors on cutting edge technologies.
  • Transformed industrial operations to increase efficiencies on the factory floor.
  • Strengthened the commercial industrial base to compete against the threat of near peer adversaries.
  • Reduced risk of obsolete parts and diminishing sources of supply.

Currently, the CoE is developing a variety of methods to meet the needs of RIA-JMTC’s customers. Internally, this technology is being used to create tooling and fixtures to assist in conventional manufacturing techniques, which assists in making subtractive manufacturing more efficient. RIA-JMTC is also conducting prototyping to design parts for testing which are lighter or more intricate than conventional manufacturing can produce. This includes using additive manufacturing to create molds with a printed part. Printed parts are already being shipped to the field to support the supply chain. These are hard-to-source parts but are still tested to ensure they are safe, suitable, and effective before incorporation into the system.

Another initiative with AM is to develop the digital thread. This thread will be the repository for Warfighters in the field to fabricate a part when needed. The challenge Army agencies are working through is ensuring this system is secure as well as building the repository as parts are tested and approved to be manufactured through additive means.

A&M: As a critical installation for the management and supply of the Army/Joint DoD weaponry, How Does RIA-JMTC help maintain DoD readiness?

COL Hendrix: Everything we produce at the JMTC is directly tied to either maintaining readiness of current DoD systems or helping develop new Joint Force capabilities.

While private industry will ultimately always be a larger provider of readiness for DoD, the private sector is ultimately driven by profit. This creates many situations where parts for aging systems become impossible to find in the private sector because they have become unprofitable to produce.

JMTC has the ability to both manufacture from technical data packages and reverse engineer parts in order to support the readiness supply chain when no other organization can or will. We are also leveraging our new AM capability to print parts for readiness. 3D printing is a perfect capability for rapidly producing small quantities of hard to find components.

RIA-JMTC continues to adapt manufacturing processes to include emerging technologies that contribute to stock availability and readiness for the Warfighter.

A&M: In terms of manufacturing, how is RIA-JMTC working to meet DoD force goals at or below cost requirements?

COL Hendrix: The single best way a manufacturing organization can improve schedule delivery and quality while driving down costs is by executing a Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) program that is based on Lean Manufacturing (LM) tools. LM is a method of process improvement that empowers both leaders and the workforce to make radical change and solve the problems that are standing in the way of high performance. Lean is not about small incremental changes. Lean organizations are constantly looking for ways to make huge improvements. Lean consultants, which are often referred to as “Sensei” train organizations to look for ways to get rid of “half the bad” or to “double the good”. RIA-JMTC has a great history of success employing Lean, however our CPI program had atrophied over the last decade.

Over the last six months, the RIA-JMTC team has rededicated the organization to continuous process improvement through Lean. We have employed a Lean private consulting team and we have grown our own CPI team back to a level that will allow us to aggressively increase the pace of rapid improvement events. We have created an organizational transformation plan and have established our Ambulance line as our 1st model values stream. This foundational work will be used to spread Lean tools and thinking throughout the organization, ultimately making us better and more cost effective.

A&M: From a partnering perspective, talk about any notable relationships RIA-JMTC has/is cultivating with industry and other entities?

COL Hendrix: Creating partnerships is a great way to leverage strengths and spread institutional knowledge across organizations. RIA-JMTC has great partnerships with other Army and DoD organizations as well as with private industry and academia.

JMTC has long partnered with the Watervliet Arsenal in the manufacturing of towed artillery systems. WVA’s cannon tube production pairs perfectly with our own artillery system and component manufacturing. We also have longstanding partnerships with Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Engineering Support Activities (formerly Defense Engineering Centers). Their ability to find engineering solutions to military problems and pass those solutions to RIA-JMTC for manufacturing is a recipe for great success in providing both readiness and modernization to the force.

Partnering with private industry is a great way to help DoD arsenals and depots stay relevant. Private industry often leads the way in leveraging new technology and is typically more nimble in supply chain management due to the need for government agency adherence to the Federal Acquisition Regulation. We are currently partnered with AM General to produce the M997A3 HMMWV Ambulance. RIA-JMTC manufactures the ambulance enclosure with AM General provided materials and mounts them on the HMMWV. This partnership allows us to take full advantage of their supply chain.

We are leveraging partnerships to help us move the ball in additive manufacturing. We currently have a RIA-JMTC employee attending and internship with Honeywell. There our Engineering Tech is learning industry leading, AM manufacturing techniques.

RIA-JMTC is also involved with the local community and academia. We have long partnered with Western Illinois University in the creation and sustainment of the Quad City Manufacturing Lab (QCML), which is located here at RIA-JMTC. QCML has been developing AM techniques and training students on this technology for more than decade. Prior to our own AM Center of Excellence, we have utilized them to help with manufacturing solutions and create tooling for our machines that could not be accomplished through traditional manufacturing efforts.