Marines See the Benefit of 3D Printers in Combat Zones

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Military troops spend their careers engaged in the overall directive of keeping US citizens safe. In active duty, they may also be engaged in a battle between life and death themselves out in the field. Today though, much of war is ‘smarter,’ and military officials are not just interested in but are already using progressive, self-sustainable technologies like 3D printing. We’ve followed numerous instances already where the Marines have shown off their foresight and skills with such technology, most recently to include the development of a 3D printed drone used for carrying supplies and performing surveillance.

The use of 3D printers in combat zones offers obvious benefit, and now the Marines have plans to use them for maintenance of gear, as well as more rapid production for supply chains. Three printers are already in use as soldiers battle against Islamic State militants.

“We were the first service to actually deploy 3D printers to a combat zone with actual conventional forces,” said Marine Lt. Col. Howard Marotto, the service’s lead for additive manufacturing and 3D printing development and implementation, in a recent interview. “There have been printers deployed in the past in the special forces community, but they were always deployed with engineers. We’ve actually deployed these printers with our Marines, and given them the training [to use them] while deployed.”

Lt. Gen. Michael Dana

The benefits 3D printers offer for troops in combat are immense. In remote locations, they do not have to pack in parts but rather with the hardware and materials on location, they can make whatever they need on demand. Lt. Gen. Michael Dana, deputy commandant for Installations and Logistics, pointed out that previously these ‘essential parts’ would have to be shipped in from nearby areas or a distant Defense Logistics Agency hub.

“There are radios out there that have plastic components. We’ve been able to print plastic components for those radios, to make them operable when they were inoperable,” Dana said in a recent interview. “This way it has much promise to provide on-demand parts literally within hours, worst case days, whereas if you’re dealing with a traditional, back in the States to point of need, you’re talking multiple days, weeks and sometimes even longer. So that’s the attraction of this capability.”

3D printing can eliminate the hassles of the contemporary ‘factory to foxhole’ method. With 3D printing, an on demand mini-factory can be brought directly to the military site.

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert B. Neller, right, observes a 3D printer in the Central Command area of operations, June 18, 2017. [Image: Cpl. Samantha K. Braun]

While they are not giving out the exact locations of where the 3D printers are in use by the Marines, Marotto did confirm that several are in combat zones in the Middle East. There are more in use also, but they are ‘behind the front lines,’ with a total of 40 3D printers in use. Marotto sees that number expanding by 20 or 30 more as the year goes on.

“Marines have always had great ideas; they have always been innovative. They haven’t always had the capability to be able to manufacture that or to make it right there, at least a prototype,” Marotto said. “And now 3D printing is opening up those avenues for Marines to capitalize on their innovative ideas.”

Discuss in the Marines forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source: Defense Tech]

 

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