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AFRL engineer awarded Military Additive Manufacturing Lifetime Achievement Award

  • Published
  • By Erica Harrah
  • Air Force Research Laboratory

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFRL) – Dr. Mark Benedict, Additive Manufacturing lead for the Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL's, Materials and Manufacturing Directorate and chief technical adviser at America Makes, was the 2023 recipient of the Military Additive Manufacturing, or MILAM, 3D Printing Lifetime Achievement Award. The award is granted for the consistent, distinguished service of an individual or group, and for making groundbreaking lifetime contributions with an enduring impact in the areas of additive manufacturing and 3D printing across the DOD.

“We’re tremendously proud to have Mark on our team,” said Dr. Charles Ormsby, AFRL division chief, Manufacturing and Industrial Technologies. “He is truly a world leader in additive manufacturing technology who transformed a research tool into a competitive advantage for our warfighters. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this recognition.”

Dr. Blake Teipel, CEO of Essentium Inc. and the person who nominated Benedict for the MILAM award, recalled Benedict’s willingness to share his wealth of knowledge and experience when Essentium was a relatively new contractor in 2020.

“He immediately came and visited us for a deep-dive technical kickoff, bringing with him an immense curiosity and a wealth of experience,” Teipel said. “I couldn’t be more delighted that Dr. Benedict received this well-deserved award. His longstanding tenure as a thought- and technology-leader not only within the United States Air Force and AFRL communities, but also for the entire additive manufacturing industry, is well-known.”

Benedict, who has been with AFRL’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate since 1997, said he was fascinated by materials science even before he knew what it was. He recalled recently finding some old homework assignments from kindergarten, while helping with spring cleaning at his mother’s home.

“It was basically six pages of questionable penmanship and interesting drawings,” Benedict said. “But it made me realize that even then, I wanted to know how things were made.”

As part of a military family, Benedict traveled a lot. His family eventually settled in Ohio when his father was posted to his final assignment at Bratenahl Naval Base near Cleveland. After high school, Benedict decided to stay in Ohio to attend the University of Dayton, where he earned his Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering. It was also during this time that he began working at AFRL in the manufacturing research branch.

“I fell in love with the University of Dayton and the campus,” Benedict said. “I especially liked the closeness to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Since I came from a military family, that kept me in the orbit of the services, and I was cognizant that was a career path.”

After attending the University of Dayton, Benedict attended Wright State University through a DAGSI scholarship, where he earned his Bachelor’s and Master of Science degrees in material science. He continued to work at AFRL during that time, and eventually earned his doctorate in metallurgy and material science from Cambridge University.

“I started out at the Manufacturing Research branch and then bounced around a bit working in the Polymers branch, and the Thermal Materials branch before eventually landing back in manufacturing research,” Benedict said. “The manufacturing directorate gives you so many neat problems to work on. Except for my time at Cambridge, I have been here ever since.”

About 11 years ago, Benedict was asked to take the lead with additive manufacturing at AFRL.

“Because of my background with materials science, computers and practical computational work, it was a good fit,” he said. “Ever since then, I’ve been really enthusiastic about what we can use that technology for.”

Over the years, Benedict has seen additive manufacturing mature from something he and his son used to create plastic figurines to a productive, go-to solution for manufacturing critical Air Force systems.

Most systems are composed of thousands of parts, but inevitably, one will break and need to be replaced. In the case of Air Force systems, sourcing that one part is often difficult, costly and time consuming either due to the limited availability of the part or the age of the system, Benedict explained. This can potentially render a system inoperable for years.

“Some of these systems have been flying for much longer than you or I have been treading this planet,” said Benedict. “The B-52 is over 75 years old at this point, and the companies that originally made it are long out of business. Additive manufacturing eventually gave us the means to reverse engineer these parts.”

Initially, additive manufacturing used mostly plastics for printing, which could be used for demonstration models, fit checks and sometimes tooling for manufacturing. Benedict said the inflection point was when metal processes began to mature.

“When the metal process started to become faster, more affordable and more dependable, we started investing a lot of money in assessing the quality,” Benedict said. “Is this going to be an air-worthy part? Initially, the answer was no. Currently, there isn’t a rocket that goes up today that doesn’t have a large number of parts produced by additive manufacturing.”

In fact, just last year, a company flew a rocket that is, by weight, 85% printed parts.

“Not only were the engines printed, which has become kind of the go-to, but also the pressure tanks, something we never thought we could do, were printed,” said Benedict.

During his time at AFRL, Benedict has worked on numerous and varying projects but said that there are two in particular that stand out for him. The first is the Pacer Edge program, which was run by the Air Force Lifecycle Management Center engines group. The goal of Pacer Edge was to learn how to leverage 3D printing and make parts in their own depots.

“To achieve airworthiness, you need to know everything there is to know about the process, not just, is it the right shape. We spent the next three and a half years learning how to print high-quality parts,” said Benedict.

One of the first successful airworthy parts they produced was an oil sump cover for the F-16. Benedict said not only was the casting for this part very hard to find, but they also only needed about four of them per year, enough to ground four F-16s.

“No one wants to make four of anything,” said Benedict. “There is no profit for industry to do that. It can take two years to get some of these parts. Using additive manufacturing, it now takes only a month from the time the part is ordered, and it is cost neutral.”

Another memorable program Benedict worked on is the acceleration of large-scale additive manufacturing, or ALSAM. In this project, which he started earlier in his career, Benedict championed the need for an open-source additive manufacturing machine.

“The way that these printers work is, you give them a CAD file and it spits out a geometry,” said Benedict. The machine does what it does, and you don’t have any understanding of how it got there.”

This isn’t ideal for scientists and engineers who need to be able to create reproducible experiments, Benedict said. So, over a seven-year period, AFRL collaborated with GE to develop a printer that was fully open and accessible to scientists.

“We control every movement of the laser, understand every bit of gas flow and powder recoating,” said Benedict. “I think that has been a real game changer for the labs. We did this through America Makes and now there are six of these printers out in the wild, which allows our partners to do deep science experiments and understand the process.”

About six years ago, Benedict transitioned to the role of chief technical adviser at America Makes, which he said involved more investment planning and strategic alignment of resources with future Air Force needs, maturing the technology and getting it to airworthy status.

“That’s where most of our pain points come from when supplying equipment for, or creating, new air vehicles,” said Benedict. “It takes a lot of work both inside and outside of AFRL, partnering with industry, academia and the other services as well as international work to get all our investments and research goals aligned.”

Benedict said receiving a lifetime achievement award has given him an opportunity to look back, which is something he doesn’t often do.

“I’m a very forward-focused person. It was sort of humbling to look back on all that I have been a part of,” said Benedict.

Among other awards and honors Benedict has received, he was named an AFRL Fellow in 2023. This honor represents 0.3% of the AFRL professional technical staff and has only been granted to 251 AFRL recipients since the program began 37 years ago. Benedict is also the recipient of the 2020 Director’s Award (Senior Individual), and the 2023 Director’s Award (Team) as part of the Hypersonics Team.

Benedict was recently named Senior Scientist, Convergent (Digital) Manufacturing, at AFRL.

About AFRL

The Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 12,500 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit