May 22, 2017 | By David

Research on the future of 3D printing technology in the defense industry will soon be the focus of a brand new military center. The European Defense Agency (EDA) will open the European Tactical Airlift Center (ETAC) in Zaragoza, Spain on June 8. A project study on feasibility and applications of 3D printing technology will form part of a training course to prepare for it.

The EDA, a dedicated defense branch of the European Union, will be transferring its tactical airlift operations to Spain, which is one of the largest project transfers to a member state that the organization has ever carried out. Tactical airlift is a military term for the airborne transportation of supplies and equipment within a theater of operations (in contrast to strategic airlift). It tends to make use of aircraft that feature short landing and take-off distances and low-pressure tires, allowing operations from small or poorly prepared airstrips. It is a critical capability for defense, and the establishment of this new center is a major step forward for European defense collaboration.

Zaragoza will become the official home of the European Air Transport Fleet (EAFT) programme, which was created in 2011 by EDA and signed by 20 member states. It is intended to increase the EU’s airlift capabilities. Addressing shortages and increasing interoperability will be key parts of its agenda, along with the research into furthering use of 3D printing.

The ETAC will be opened in an official ceremony by the Head of the EDA, High Representative and Vice-President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini, and Minister of Defence of Spain Dolores de Cospedal. Leading up to the opening, the third annual European Advanced Airlift Tactics Training Course will run from May 28 to June 8, hosted by the Spanish airforce at a base in Zaragoza, with the graduation ceremony forming part of the official ETAC opening. Aircraft from Belgium, Germany, Poland, and Spain will be gathered together in order to give air transport crews a more robust knowledge of airlift tactics and to enable better interoperability between different forces.

The training course will also deploy the EDA’s pioneering 3D printing project. Officially titled “Additive Manufacturing Feasibility Study & Technology Demonstration,” it is one of the most extensive research projects yet into the use of 3D printing in this area of defense. The first part of the project is focused on identifying key areas where 3D printing technology could be advantageous for tactical airlift, and showing how it might be applied and how difficult or easy it would be to do so.

The second part is a more practical demonstration of a 3D printing lab. It will show the feasibility of deploying the lab in an aircraft. A dialogue will be established between technicians and officials to decide what the main technology needs tend to be in such operations, and they will then select which parts should be 3D printed. The parts will be produced, on site and on demand, with varying degrees of complexity. This will go some way towards determining the operational utility of 3D printing in military conditions, as well as testing the quality of their 3D printing processes and seeing where improvements can be made.

The EDA’s project will be a crucial bridge in the knowledge gap between different areas of defense. It will hopefully raise awareness of the possibilities of 3D printing and other technological developments, increasing their implementation in deployed missions. A cross-fertilization of ideas from several different domains can only enhance defense capabilities across the board, and should improve member relations as well as being highly cost-effective. The huge potential of 3D printing technology to streamline production, as well as to stimulate innovation and collaboration, will be proven yet again in what is perhaps one of the most crucial sectors of all.




Posted in 3D Printing Application



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