There are so many examples today that demonstrate the impact 3D printing is having all over the world, and in so many different areas of industry. But if you wonder what the true potential for the future of 3D printing technology is, just take stock of its biggest fans. While we report on many different innovations via NASA today, we also follow numerous stories regarding the uses of 3D printing in the military—often including the US Army.

It would seem that they have taken stock of and are ready to take advantage of nearly every benefit of 3D printing from the intrinsic affordability and self-sustainability in manufacturing out in field to the ability to make prototypes and parts not previously possible. This is evidenced by their interest in making everything from customized military meals to 3D printed grenade launchers—with 3D printed grenades, of course.

Now, the Army is releasing a report of how far they have progressed with 3D printing, and what they intend to do in the future. Their report begins by pointing out how important 3D printing can be to soldiers in remote areas, as they can make whatever they need, whether that is sustenance, a new gun, or perhaps even bioprinted cells to heal a wound or a severe burn.

“Additive manufacturing technology has the ability to improve the performance of Army weapon systems on the battlefield. Additionally, 3D printing gives the Army a tactical advantage by providing the ability to manufacture and produce items as close to the point of need as possible. This will not only lighten the logistics burden but also improve the efficiency of the acquisition process. By simplifying the process of repairing or producing spare parts, the Army will make critical gains in readiness,” states the Army.

These parts were made using additive manufacturing, which creates plastic items and other durable components by adding material, layer by layer, using 3-D printers. [Photo: U.S. Army]

They have created a plan for their 3D printing goals, known as the Additive Manufacturing Technology Roadmap. According to the Army, this was combined with the Department of Defense (DOD) Roadmap, outlining goals for all branches of the military.

“The DOD roadmap also identifies current and future capabilities that are needed to enable AM and areas for collaboration,” states the Army. “These common standards set out in the roadmap will enable the DOD, industry, and academia to effectively use AM.”

Their 3D printing plan has been implemented in three steps, beginning with 3D printing to make or replace existing parts. This has already been helpful for many parts of the military—even if they are just 3D printing temporary parts until the others can be received. 3D printing is also helpful in prototyping new parts. In the second part of their plan, they are eliminating multi-part assembly. The Army also plans to begin creating new parts that did not exist previously.

This breaching tool, which is used to open doors and crates or to cut wires and other material, evolved from the initial pattern on the left to the final product on the far right. Based on Soldier feedback on the original design, contouring to the handle for safety and grip was added, as well as quick change blades and hex holes so that it can be used as a wrench. [Photo: U.S. Army]

They will also collaborate with the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force (REF) in the creation and managing of expeditionary laboratories. The Ex Labs will be deployed around the globe and are meant to support ‘forward-deployed Soldiers.’ The US Army will also be working with RDECOM on a system that offers ‘containerized’ 3D printing. It is already en route to Thailand and Japan where it will be used in the multi-national Pacific Pathways exercise.

“The Army relies on the manufacturing prowess of industry to keep our Soldiers the best-equipped in the world because having the best equipment, the right equipment in the right quantity when you need it is an essential component of making our Soldiers the safest and most effective in the world,” said Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins, commanding general, U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM).

Discuss in the Army forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source: US Army]

 

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