Military forces worldwide are hyped about using additive manufacturing (AM), spurred by the technology’s ability to produce components on demand, at the point of need, without the logistics of traditional resupply and acquisitions, and at a fraction of the costs and times. The use of 3D printing is becoming so widespread that in 2021, the United States military announced it wanted to “mainstream AM across the Department of Defense (DoD)” under a unified strategy to develop standards for digital manufacturing products and processes.
Now, the U.S. Army announced it would leverage the capabilities of a new platform called WarpSPEE3D––the world’s first large-format cold spray metal 3D printing technology––to mature AM applications developed by Australian company SPEE3D. In recent Australian Army field trials, the company’s WarpSPEE3D machines have proven robust enough for austere environments such as the field of combat, making it an ideal expeditionary solution for building components on-demand at the point of need.
Acquired by Phillips Federal, a division of the Phillips Corporation, the new WarpSPEE3D technology will arrive at the Phillips Federal Additive Innovation Center, located inside the U.S. Army’s Rock Island Arsenal (RIA)’s Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence in Illinois, sometime in 2022. The new addition will be part of a growing lineup of AM technologies, including another SPEE3D machine, the LightSPEE3D, purchased by Phillips Federal in July 2020.
Once on-site, the WarpSPEE3D will be used to progress the facility’s 3D printing capability, support activities in material exploration and research, and develop and manufacture large format, metal parts-on-demand, and prototypes for the US Armed Forces.
Commenting on the deal, John Harrison, Global Director of Phillips Additive pointed out that “since 2020, the unique high-speed capabilities of SPEE3D technology have proven to be an excellent addition in supporting the RIA’s manufacturing innovation objectives, and the scope of our P3 [Public Private Partnership] Program. The new WarpSPEE3D printer at the RIA’s Center of Excellence for Advanced Manufacturing facility will allow us to further our scope and make cutting-edge achievements in developing large-format applications for expeditionary forces in the US.”
As SPEE3D’s flagship large-format cold spray metal 3D printing machine, the WarpSPEE3D can build multiple components at once up to 1000 x 700 millimeters in diameter and print 30 tons of metal parts per year. Running at supersonic speeds of 100 grams per minute––between 100 and 1,000 times faster than traditional metal 3D printing methods––WarpSPEE3D can build industrial quality metal parts in minutes rather than days or weeks.
Since 2020, the WarpSPEE3D has been used often by defense forces for an on-demand, deployable metal manufacturing capability. In 2020 and 2021, the Australian Army conducted several field trials with their WarpSPEE3D tactical printer at Mount Bundey and Bradshaw Training Area during Exercise Koolendong, a high-end live-fire warfighting exercise in Australia’s Northern Territory completed by Australian Army personnel and US Marines from the Marine Rotational Force-Darwin (MRF-D). Exercise Koolendong enhanced the ability of the Australian defense force and MRF-D to work together to rapidly respond to crises and assist partners in the Indo-Pacific region.
What’s more, the field trials in 2020 resulted in over fifty case studies of printable parts and demonstrated that SPEE3D’s WarpSPEE3D printer was robust enough to operate in remote Australian bushland. In 2021, the program was extended to verify initial results and establish new field trials and the Australian Army’s Additive Manufacturing Cell (AMC) technicians. In the 2021 field trials, the Australian Army successfully proved it is possible to 3D print, certify, validate, and replace armored vehicle parts in the field. The success of these trials revealed that AM could play an essential role in the future of Defense readiness.
As far as game-changing technologies go, the WarpSPEE3D 3D metal printer was rapidly deployed and put through its paces by the Australian Army during the extensive field exercise, proving the potential for this cutting-edge printer to be deployed in the field by defense forces everywhere.
According to SPEE3D’s CEO, Byron Kennedy, the WarpSPEE3D will allow Phillips Federal and the Rock Island Arsenal to explore a broader range of large, high-quality, low-cost metal parts manufactured quickly. After just over a year in production, the center had already printed more than 1,000 parts for the Department of Defense and private industry partners.
The Rock Island Arsenal has been developing and manufacturing readiness solutions for U.S. Army warfighters since 1862. Primed to take the next step into advanced manufacturing technologies, the RIA opened the Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence in 2019. Since then, it has been operationalizing 3D printing to accelerate Army readiness. Working together with Phillips Federal (the leading service provider and distributor of machines and ancillary equipment to the US Government), the military hopes to solve the biggest logistic challenges in the DoD. And nothing says “logistics readiness” like 3D printing.
Since its inception, 3D printing has been preparing to enable decentralized production close to or directly at the point of need. Today, the technology has proven to save companies and the government on transport costs and drive down overall logistics expenses. In fact, a study out of MIT indicates that the adoption of 3D printing can reduce supply chain costs by 50% to 90%. Furthermore, as one of the most adaptable advanced manufacturing processes, AM can indeed solve impossible replacement part issues on-demand much quicker than what traditional vendors can provide. At this rate, the AM centers at RIA will deliver the U.S. Army the unique technical expertise and equipment to manufacture high-quality, sustainable products for future missions.
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