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[Image: Marine Corps/Sgt. Corey Dabney]

In yet another example of 3D printing’s versatility, the Marines were able to print and then detonate an indirect fire munition as part of their exploration of the technology’s capacity for contributing to the manufacture of their weaponry. The hope is that the ability of 3D printing to quickly create customized products will translate to the capacity for the production of custom blasts. As explained by Capt. Chris Wood, the co-leader for 3D printing for Deputy Commandant of Installations and Logistics Lt. Gen. Michael Dana:

“One of the benefits of being able to precisely control the way that a munition or warhead is ‘grown’ through additive manufacturing is that we think we’ll be able to tailor the blast and associated fragmentation to achieve specific effects for particular targets, heights, collateral damage, or even environmental considerations. Some of this can be done currently with very expensive, hand-made munitions, but [additive manufacturing] allows us to do it better, faster, and likely cheaper.”

Many people think of bombs as being something that doesn’t need a great deal of finesse – the bigger the explosion, the better. But that isn’t always the case, and the military is actively looking for ways to more closely tailor its explosions so that it doesn’t extend the damage any farther than it needs to in order to achieve its mission. While this doesn’t make blowing things up a friendly exercise, it’s hard to argue against improvements that might not only reduce damage but help save innocent human lives.

newilThe capacity that 3D printing has for making these more customized explosives is not fully understood yet, but that’s exactly why Wood wants to begin to work with the technology right now. These kinds of things take a great deal of time to develop and the military thinks long term, as Wood explained to Military.com:

“General Dana’s insight was, most of my capabilities development takes 10 to 20 years. So if I don’t start my experimentation and my advocacy for those things now, I’m not going to be able to really capitalize on what they can offer when they mature. We are fully aware that it’s expensive, and it’s not as mature as we want, but that’s exactly why we think now is the perfect time to strike so we can figure out this very protracted capabilities development process.”

I am sure the pun was unintended.

3d-printer-weapons-guns-military-partsThe other aspect of 3D printing that is particularly appealing to the military is the potential it has for use in the field. Replacement parts and spur of the moment jigs can be created with a single tool in a way that has never been possible before. Some of this is already happening, as there are now several maintenance fleets as well as special operation command, infantry, and intelligence units currently equipped with the technology. As of now, 3D printed parts in use must designate their AM status through the use of non-standard colors (e.g., yellow, green) so anyone coming in contact with these components immediately recognizes how they were manufactured.

All in all this paints a picture of a technology that will be a very useful tool for military operations on a number of levels. A concerted effort is currently being put into understanding what the overall 3D printing policy will look like, but it appears that there is no longer any doubt of the technology’s potential for assisting the military to achieve its goals. Discuss in the 3D Printed Munitions forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source: Military.com]
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