Apr 23, 2016 | By Benedict

The Marines of 1st Maintenance Battalion, Combat Logistics Regiment 15, 1st Marine Logistics Group, have been using 3D printers to produce replacement parts for broken equipment. Tests have shown that 3D printing could be an asset for the Marine Corps in both garrison and battlefield environments.

The proper operation of mechanical and electronic equipment is perhaps more vital in military situations than in any other. If something stops working and there is no replacement part to fix it with, consequences can be dire. That’s why Marines at Camp Pendleton, California, have been investigating whether 3D printing could be used to assist battalions in a variety of situations. Using a combination of 3D scanning and 3D printing, maintenance staff can produce replacement parts for faulty equipment on the spot—saving time and, potentially, things of far greater consequence.

“The expeditionary manufacturing facility is capable of taking a broken item, generating a 3D scan into a computer animated design, and sending that to a 3D printer to print out a replica part,” said Lt. Col. Gregory Pace, the commanding officer of 1st Maintenance Battalion. “The program is designed to be able to take a manufacturing capability and place it as far forward on the battlefield as possible.”

3D printing can help in a number of ways, and can be used to create both plastic and metal replacement parts. All of the necessary kit, including computers, software, and 3D printers, are contained in a room that resembles a shipping container, called the “expeditionary manufacturing facility”. For plastic parts, the 3D printer can create an immediate prototype or a functional end-use part. For metal parts, however, staff in the metal shop are called into play. A plastic 3D printed model of the metal part can be made, which Marines in the metal shop can then copy.

“There are a lot of different ways the Marine Corps could use a 3D printer and the software to save money and time,” said Cpl. Samuel Stonestreet, a ground radio repairman who has been tasked with learning the basics of 3D printing. “Once you input the measurements, it only takes a few hours for the machine to fabricate the part.”

The speed at which a 3D printed component can be produced is getting the Marines at Camp Pendleton particularly excited. Replacement parts usually take weeks or months to be delivered, but 3D printing squeezes that time down to a matter of hours. “It’s the instantaneous nature of being able to print things on your premises,” said Pace. “If we can reduce a 100-day lead time down to one day because we have the capacity to print the replacement part, I think we are doing a significant increase to MEF readiness.”

After a successful trial period, the Marine Corps concluded that the technology could be put to good use in both garrison and deployed environments. “I think it’s very important for the Marine Corps and the Department of Defense as a whole to look into this and see how we can implement it into missions and the big picture of things,” Stonestreet concluded.

All images: CBS8



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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