Dutch firm MX3D, renowned for Amsterdam’s 3D printed bridge, has successfully secured a deal to provide an M1 Metal AM System to the Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). Scheduled for delivery in the first quarter of 2024, the system will be housed at the ERDC’s Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory (GSL). The ERDC serves as the research arm for the Corps of Army Engineers and is involved in a broad array of studies, spanning civil engineering, military engineering, engineered systems, and Army installations. The GSL specializes in force protection, maneuver support, and structural engineering, with a focus on elements such as aircraft runways and concrete engineering.
“Serving the USA market and collaborating with the USA DoD is a significant achievement for MX3D. It reflects our dedication to grow our North-American presence. It also shows that our focus on high productivity, certification and automation is paying off,” said MX3D CEO Gijs van der Velden.
In addition to the U.S. Department of Defense deal, MX3D has also shipped a system to an undisclosed client in Canada. The company has further revealed advancements in its software capabilities: the MetalXL software now incorporates sensor technology, supports active cooling, and features integrated 3D scanners.
Starting with idealistic origins, MX3D has transformed into an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) of large-scale systems. The company’s iconic bridge, which was recently taken down from its location in Amsterdam after a two-year permit, serves not just as a landmark, but also as a symbol of futuristic aspirations. Before venturing into hardware sales, MX3D initially considered focusing solely on software to power others’ wire arc AM (WAAM) systems. The recent purchase by the DoD illustrates how government entities, led by specific departments like the Air Force Research Lab and the Department of Energy, are progressively absorbing the 3D printing sector. These agencies are investing billions in everything from foundational research to applied projects and systems, effectively making the DoD a major driving force in the 3D printing industry.
In 2017 we wrote that, “It is important to realize however that when governments extol the virtues of 3D printing and promote these technologies or invest in them they are not doing so in order to repair the button of your washing machine. There are strategic and tactical reasons for them to master this technology and win in an emerging 3D printing arms race.”
We seem to be in a technological arms race, and based on public announcements, the U.S. military appears to be in the lead. 3D printing is contributing to a variety of sectors—from hypersonics and 3D printed concrete bunkers to boat hulls. In areas like drones, sensors, missiles, improvised repairs, and aviation, 3D printing could play an increasingly crucial role.
As for what the Department of Defense plans to do with MX3D’s technology, the options are manifold. While building bridges is an obvious application, the technology could also be used to reinforce 3D printed concrete structures or even manufacture components for bunkers and seawalls. Moreover, Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM) could enable the deposition of composite materials to create armor that’s more resistant to explosives and projectiles.
WAAM has disappointed some who have experimented with it, often requiring extensive post-processing that undermines its business case. However, orders like this could provide MX3D with the revenue needed to refine the technology. We might discover that for certain applications, such as structural features in buildings, the absence of fine machining could be acceptable, making WAAM more viable.
It’s important to note that as these technological advancements unfold, the 3D printing industry is progressively becoming more aligned with U.S. government interests. This raises the question of whether the industry is transitioning from being a universally applicable technology to one that is increasingly optimized for DoD requirements.
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