The DoD is collaborating with a National Manufacturing USA Institute to address critical workforce shortages in the casting and forging supply chain.

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—A new national workforce initiative is underway to help meet essential U.S defense needs in the casting and forging industry through the development of trades and engineering labor.

The program, announced at the 2023 Defense Manufacturing Conference (DMC) last December, is the result of a partnership between the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation® (IACMI) and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment (IBAS) Program.

The IACMI is one of 17 Manufacturing USA institutes that are “designed to enable large-scale collaboration and develop manufacturing technologies that address national priorities,” according to the Manufacturing USA website.

The DoD has prioritized castings and forgings as one of four focus areas in which critical vulnerabilities pose the most pressing threat to national security. Between now and 2028, the defense industrial base will need at least 122,000 additional shipbuilders, engineers, and other key DoD support roles. Failure to meet the demand for metallurgical engineers and related trade professionals in the base metals industry creates vulnerability in U.S. national defense.

“Castings and forgings are critical to achieving and maintaining the capabilities we need,” said Matthew Draper, Ph.D., technical director of metallurgy and manufacturing at the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, in a release from IACMI. “However, the supply chain for cast and forged components for the Defense Industrial Base has shrunk by 80 percent. In a time when we must now produce defense materials at tonnage levels not seen since the Cold War, we must rebuild a modern, technologically adept workforce capable of delivering with far fewer personnel.”

The new Metallurgical Engineering Trades Apprenticeship & Learning (METAL) program is seeking to transform the U.S. metal manufacturing workforce in the castings and forging industry. The plan is to develop a national training network to sustain and bolster the base metals workforce through 2050.

According to the release, METAL is supported by DoD’s Innovation Capability and Modernization (ICAM) Office within Manufacturing Capability Expansion & Investment Prioritization (MCEIP), in partnership with industry and IACMI. The Steering Committee includes representatives from across the services at Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), the Air Force Life Cycle Management Command (AFLCM), and the Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM).

The METAL program will leverage IACMI’s workforce development capabilities and experience in scaling up technical training networks, including the America’s Cutting Edge (ACE) CNC machining training program developed by University of Tennessee Professor Tony Schmitz. It will also leverage proven regional training center models to deliver comprehensive and hands-on, metals industry training, according to IACMI.

The IACMI is working to engage metallurgical and industry experts and educational institutions to develop a core METAL program curriculum and training methods. In its testbed phase, the curriculum will focus on traditional base metal processes, such as casting, forging, and plate production. Future program expansions could cover hybrid processes, automation, and consumables, the release said.

According to IACMI, the METAL curricula will explore advanced manufacturing technologies, new materials and manufacturing innovation, and flexible and accelerated training methodologies. Workforce skillsets must be deeper and broader to effectively maintain resilient and secure domestic supply chains necessary for the defense industrial base.

“Fostering development of an industrial base workforce and ensuring the right skillsets are available—from trade skills through doctorial-level engineering capabilities—is vital to national security,” said Joannie Harmon, vice president of workforce development for IACMI, in the release. “Our goal for METAL is to ensure the nation’s metal manufacturing workforce is a source of strategic and competitive advantage for the United States.”