Because of the rapid changes in technology and the ability to track and monitor industrial data, we are now better suited to make calculated predictions about where we may be technologically in the coming decades. One thing we know for sure: 3D printing will be in the mix, if not the center, of changes to come. This will occur in so many sectors, including medicine, space travel, fine arts, education, retail goods, and, of course, the military.
We may not have gotten flying cars by 1980, but how do you feel about 3D printed and unmanned surface and underwater vessels and small ships, say, by 2030? According to a Bloomberg Business article, we may have to get very accustomed to the idea of 3D printed military vessels. QinetiQ Group Plc., a former government defense-research laboratory, has stated in its Global Marine Technology Trends 2030 report that the British Royal Navy may be adding these 3D printed vessels to its fleet. The goal is cheaper and more efficient production of military defense systems, as the UK seeks to reduce public spending by £20 billion over the next four years. This is why 3D printing is so appealing.
Bloomberg Business reports that this is not too far off in the future because the Royal Navy is already trying to locate and destroy mines with “unmanned sub-surface torpedo-shaped vessels.” Up to 50-foot-long 3D printed metal and plastic craft would permit cheaper and quicker
production, and Navies could do on-site at-sea printing of mission-critical equipment. 3D printing has also been explored as an excellent potential technology for disaster relief sites for the same reason it applies to the military and outer space. In time-critical situations, on-site production is by far the way to go.
According to Iain Kennedy, Head of Maritime Business Development for QinetiQ, they are also “testing communications between unmanned surface ships, underwater vessels and aerial vehicles that could one day undertake autonomous missions after being released from a manned naval vessel.”
Kennedy also mentioned that newer vessels–like the Type 26 Frigate and the BAE Systems Plc Type 45 Destroyer–need to more easily accommodate equipment upgrades. And, as anyone who follows 3D printing progress knows, one of the best features about 3D printing is rapid prototyping and production possibilities. The technology is very compatible with this kind of demand.
It will be overwhelming to watch militaries apply 3D printing to move into new territory, but at least we know more concisely what to expect from the (not too distant) future.
Let us know your thoughts on the latest in potential for maritime uses of this technology in the 3D Printing Future in the Royal Navy forum thread on 3DPB.com.