Meet the Scientist: L.J. Holmes

Meet the Scientists is an Armed with Science segment highlighting the men and women working in the government realms of science, technology, and research and development: the greatest minds working on the greatest developments of our time. If you know someone who should be featured, email us

WHO: L.J. Holmes

Tell me a little about yourself and your technology.

My dad told me I was going to be engineer at 12 years old when I traded a brand new bike he bought me for a motorcycle that didn’t work. I pulled that machine apart and got it back together and running, that is when I knew I would be an engineer, or a decent mechanic. I’ve had the tinkering mentality as long as I could remember.

I became interested in additive manufacturing in 2004 after the tinkering of my youth led me to ultimately become a mechanical engineering. I was studying composites at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory when 3D printing became popular. Initially, I wanted to see if I could use the new idea to print three dimensional polymer composites for Army protection systems.

L. J. Holmes shows Maryland Department of Commerce Secretary Mike Gill a number of 3D printed structures last month that were manufactured at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory. The goal of the additive manufacturing program is to manipulate and control layers of the printed 3D structure.

L. J. Holmes shows Maryland Department of Commerce Secretary Mike
Gill a number of 3D printed structures last month that were manufactured at
the U.S. Army Research Laboratory. The goal of the additive manufacturing
program is to manipulate and control layers of the printed 3D structure.

Additive Manufacturing had the potential to allow us to build three-dimensional objects in ways that were not before possible. But, I soon found out that the technology was not able to do what I wanted it to do at the time. I also discovered that 3D printing wasn’t a new concept — more of an older concept coming of age. Today, you could see 3D replicas of food, organs and almost any object you could imagine. I’d like to see the day when we could manufacture functional things for the Army like less common tools that Soldiers need on the spot in tactical scenarios.

What is your role in developing this technology/science?

I have been working with the Army for 12 years and talking to end users in the additive manufacturing community for quite a few of those years. I could tell you that scientifically we do not understand a lot of the physics behind creating three-dimensional structures with additive manufacturing technologies. We do not know how a finite number of materials will interact with one another. My role allows me to get closer to answering the questions that will lead to wider acceptance of additive manufacturing for everyday use. One priority for me is to convey to our warfighters how additive manufacturing could affect their future operations.

What is the goal/mission of this technology/science and what do you hope it will achieve?

At ARL, the goal of the additive manufacturing program is to manipulate and control layers of a 3D structure. The short term goal is to do it for one material set over the next three years. At the basic science stage of development, we are creating additive manufacturing research plans for the long term with near-term milestones by blending traditional and novel manufacturing processes. We use polymer synthesis, casting and welding technologies, metal forming, and many other techniques in order to create the advanced manufacturing environment.

We need to define interfaces for one particular material set and show that it is applicable to another set. It may take us some time to define what happens to a microstructure at the point when it is exposed to a laser and a 3D part is created. The question is what does the microstructure look like and how does it compare to the basic element that we start with. We want to grasp the big picture of what happens in the machine. An example of this can be seen in our work with Cold Spray.  ARL has researched and refined Cold Spray over the last 20 years, and we are now using that technology to repair wear and corrosion damage to aircraft.  We expect to use this experience to be able to speed up the implementation of Additive Manufacturing into Army supply chains.

In your own words, what is it about this technology/science that makes it so significant?

Every Soldier needs a tool, gun, wrench or, one day, a robot. When a critical tool stops working Soldiers have the ingenuity to adapt. If we could figure out how to print tools, or parts to repair tools efficiently on the go, there is less risk to safety, exposure and loss time in figuring alternatives.

How could you use this technology/science to aid the military or help with military missions?

Tactical military teams could have a machine that is capable of manufacturing three different materials simultaneously and also make parts for critical tools in a constrained environment.

What do you think is the most impressive/beneficial thing about this technology/science and why?

If a job calls for a specialty wrench to repair a tactical vehicle on the battlefield, it is knowing that we could print it with the confidence that it would work. You have what you need at the time when you need it.

What got you interested in this field of study?

I made a hobby of designing parts to make things go fast after I finished the aerospace engineering program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University more than 10 years ago. I’ve settled into refurbishing antique furniture at this stage of my life because piecing things together give me personal satisfaction. My thoughts about the challenge of additive manufacturing are similar.

Are you working on any other projects right now?

In the area of additive manufacturing, I collaborate with communities of interest, devise ways to advance the science and manage a project that will reach its experimentation phase this fall.

If you could go anywhere in time and space, where would you go and why?

I would go to Mars because I would want to be the first human on Mars. I have always wanted to go to space and being on the moon would be cool too, but people have been there already.

Do you have anything else you’d like to add?

I want to manufacture things through structural and functional hybridization. Structural hybridization means manufacturing useful tools of dissimilar materials at the point of need. Can we build machines that could print a vehicle axel or body armor or plastic visor or face shields that are worth using? Functional is an ability to manufacture more than one material in a single machine in order to build a functioning device. Can we additively manufacture sensors, antennas and other electronics within a structure in the same build?

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