UK Ministry of Defence Buys Two Metal 3D Printers for Royal Navy MRO

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The UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) has purchased two metal 3D printers from UK supplier Additive X, in a contract valued at £383,000 (~$483,000). The Royal Navy will use the printers, destined for Her Majesty’s Naval Bases (HMNB) Devonport and Portsmouth, for maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO).

Specifically, the Royal Navy’s Forward Support Unit will leverage the printers as part of a mandate to design and print more metal parts with additive manufacturing (AM). The contract also includes stipulations that the awardee must provide training and maintenance services for the relevant hardware and software to four service-members at each base.

The Markforged Metal X, possibly the model the MOD purchased

According to UK Defence Journal, the MOD contract notice states, “The [AM] machine must have the capacity to manufacture metallic items…able to manufacture parts up to 250mm x 183mm x 150mm, not exceeding 10Kg. It must have the capacity to manufacture from stainless steel (eg 17-4 PH), tool steel (eg H13-A2, D2), Inconel 625 (or equivalent) and Copper”, and the machines purchased have “a 2 nozzle print system…”

The contract continues, “[FSU] (B&C) have a requirement to increase capability to design and manufacture metallic items using [AM] as existing polymer manufacturing severely restricts the scope of this technology…This organic capability would save significant costs to upkeeps/[Fleet Time Support Periods] by offering a quick manufacturing capability for obsolescent or temporarily unavailable stores items.”

HMNB Portsmouth, image courtesy of MOD via Wikipedia

In other words, the UK military is internalizing the same mission for AM that the US military has already internalized. This of course isn’t the first example confirming such a trajectory — see the link above about Project TAMPA or this one about the similar Project Warhol — but it is a significant example for multiple reasons.

For one thing, the US Navy has been at the forefront of global AM deployment for defense in the last couple of years, hinting at the concrete ways in which DoD is transferring its gains to US allies. For another, that is particularly relevant in the present geopolitical context, given the resurgent collaboration between the US and UK navies in active combat in the Middle East, as part of Operation Prosperity Guardian.

And, both of those factors, combined with the UK government’s increased attention to advanced manufacturing, mean that this is the sort of contract that could quickly become as commonplace in the UK as it is in the US.

Finally, while the contract doesn’t mention the specific printers purchased, browsing the website of the supplier (Additive X), along with the contract’s reference to “a 2 nozzle print system”, would suggest that the MOD purchased Markforged’s Metal X. If that is indeed the case, it would further reinforce the idea that the trajectory described above is central to Anglo-American security cooperation.

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