UK Army’s First 3D Printed Metal Parts Used in Active Duty

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Babcock International Group, a leading defense contractor and engineering services firm in the UK, announced that the firm has delivered metal tank periscope clamps made with additive manufacturing (AM) to the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MOD). These are believed to be the first metal parts supplied to the MOD for use by active duty soldiers in the British Army.

In addition to Babcock’s presence in the procurement market for the UK military, which the company supplies via its Land, Marine, and Aviation divisions, Babcock also has extensive operations in the nuclear power industry through its subsidiary, Cavendish Nuclear. At the beginning of 2022, Babcock opened an advanced manufacturing lab focused especially on metal AM, at the UK’s Plymouth Science Park Innovation and Technology Transfer Centre (ITTC).

The UK’s Deputy Chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant General Sharon Nesmith, meeting metal AM company SPEE3D’s CEO, Byron Kennedy, at the US Army’s Project Convergence. Image courtesy of SPEE3D

In a press release announcing the 3D printed lamps for the MOD, chief executive of Babcock Land, Tom Newman, commented, “This investment in technology allows us to support our customers in a completely different way, at home and deployed on operations. If a component is required and cannot be sourced, we can now find a way to make it.”
The UK’s Assistant Chief of Staff for Equipment, HQ Field Army, Brigadier Phil Prosser, CBE, added, “My role in the Field Army is to deliver safe, supported, available and ready equipment to meet Field Army current and future demand to operate, fight and win wars on land. This ability to rapidly manufacture parts will allow our equipment to rapidly deploy on operations, and to stay in the fight longer.”

Babcock’s advanced manufacturing lab at Plymouth Science Park. Image courtesy of Babcock

In the fall of 2022, the MOD launched Project TAMPA, a program to stimulate greater use of AM by suppliers to the UK military. It is unclear if this is the first shipment of parts related to Project TAMPA, but in any case it should serve the same purpose of catalyzing increased AM activity in the UK’s defense market.

Along those same lines, another recent development that is sure to accelerate the UK military’s adoption of AM was the announcement by NATO and the EU this week that the two bodies will be creating a joint task force to enhance “[r]esilience and the protection of critical infrastructure.” The particular focus of the task force will be energy security — the dominant theme of international politics, for a multitude of diverse reasons, all throughout 2022.

The UK is particularly well-suited to play a leading role in that task force, given the nation’s position as being situated both literally and figuratively between the US and the EU. In similar fashion, Babcock is perfectly situated to capitalize on that exact same nexus, given its foothold in both defense and energy markets.

Relevant to that last point, the head of the UK’s Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) this week urged the government to act with “urgency” in expanding the nation’s adoption of small modular reactors. The growing use of AM for this particular application of nuclear energy colors that statement as yet another signal screaming that advanced manufacturing in the UK is poised for a boom.

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