Marines Embrace 3D Printing for Production of Replacement Parts

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Whatever your opinion about the military and its operations, it would be difficult to argue that they are not interested in advances in technology. The US Navy recently worked with ORNL to develop the first 3D printed submarine hull, the Israeli military prints drones for its operations, and the US Army has even investigated the possibility of using 3D printing as a new method for creating meals for its soldiers. So it should come as no surprise that the US Marine Corp, which has as one of its mantras “Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome” should be enthusiastically embracing the technology and all of the possibilities it presents. 3D printing’s rapid response is just what they are looking for, explained Chief Warrant Officer 2 Daniel Rodriguez, CLB-31’s maintenance officer:

“While afloat our motto is ‘fix it forward.’ 3D printing is a great tool to make that happen. CLB-31 can now bring that capability to bear exactly where it’s needed most – on a forward-deployed MEU.”

The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) with Combat Logistic Battalion (CLB) 31 took it upon themselves to master the technology and now count it among the tools at its disposal. Marines are often called upon to quickly create their own solutions for problems that present themselves in the field and 3D printers, with their ability to rapidly fabricate, can go a long way toward making that happen. This is particularly true of things such as the creation of replacement parts for equipment in their possession. As they make it their business to be ready at a moment’s notice, whenever and wherever they are called to serve, there’s no waiting around for a new part to arrive when something is malfunctioning or broken. Instead, with 3D printing they hope to be able to take matters into their own hands and make whatever they need, whenever they need it, wherever they are. Sgt. Adrian Willis, a computer and telephone technician with the 31st, was selected by his command to work with a 3D printer and described his belief in the benefits that can be offered through embrasure of this technology:

“I think 3D printing is definitely the future – it’s absolutely the direction the Marine Corps needs to be going. Finding innovative solutions to complex problems really does harken back to our core principles as Marines. I’m proud to be a part of a new program that could be a game-changer for the Marine Corps.”

A VMFA-121 F-35B aircraft.

The 31st MEU has used 3D printing in several situations that have already demonstrated the great potential that having access to such technology has for the speed and efficacy of their operations. For example, just a few days ago Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 was able to complete a successful flight of a F-35B Lightning II plane that had a replacement part which was fabricated on a 3D printer. In another situation, a portion of the bumper on a landing gear door of a VMFA-121 F-35B aircraft became worn out during MEU’s spring patrol. Rather than having to replace the entire door assembly, something that would have been necessary using traditional fabrication methods, the team was able to print just the bumper and have the craft back in the air in the matter of a few days. Lt. Col Richard Rusnok, VMFA-121 commanding officer, was enthusiastic about the contributions that are made possible with 3D printing:

“As a commander, my most important commodity is time. Although our supply personnel and logisticians do an outstanding job getting us parts, being able to rapidly make our own parts is a huge advantage as it cost down our footprint thus making us more agile in a shipboard or expeditionary environment. In this instance we were able to team with our sister unit, CLB-31, to not only rapidly manufacture a replacement but also save thousands of dollars in the process.”

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Daniel Rodriguez, a maintenance officer with Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, holds a 3-D printed plastic bumper for an F-35B Lightning II landing gear door aboard the USS Wasp (LHD-1) while underway in the Pacific Ocean.
[U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Stormy Mendez]

Once these 3D printed solutions are developed for particular cases, the plan is that they will be uploaded to a database of Marine Corps 3D printing solutions so that the wheel doesn’t have to be reinvented each time, a further benefit of harassing the 3D printing technology for rapid, on demand solutions.

What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts; join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com.

[Sources: Marines, DVIDS]

 

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