Jul 27, 2017 | By Benedict

Engineers at the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) have developed a 3D printing kit known as “R-FAB” for making specialty tools, spare parts, and other components that would function as stopgaps solutions to part breakages.

Army soldiers are frequently faced with the problem of part breakages. And when they’re out in the field, there’s often very little they can do about it.

That’s one of the main reasons why specialist ARDEC engineers at New Jersey’s Picatinny Arsenal, a military research and manufacturing facility, are developing “3D expeditionary kits” that would allow those in the field to make specialty tools, spare parts, and other components.

Rather than being used permanently, these 3D printed parts would act as stopgap solutions until a permanent replacement can be sourced.

Engineers say R-FAB (Rapid Fabrication) could be used to make critical repair parts; specialty tools, spares, and custom packaging for brigade support battalions; sustainment supply activities; and other special mission activities.

The 3D printing equipment could even allow soldiers to come up with brand new solutions to problems in the field.

“R-FAB allows soldiers and leaders to increase their readiness by making either authorized replacement parts or user-designed ‘readiness replacement parts,’” explained Capt. Jeremy Pinson, Additive Manufacturing Lead for U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command.

Engineers think this system will encourage the kind of innovation necessary to make improvements in the field, while also enforcing the required hierarchy to ensure that only good ideas are turned into 3D printed parts.

“Soldiers can design a solution to a problem that leaders may not even know about,” Pinson said. “While waiting for the part to be qualified, a leader of the appropriate level can accept the risk of utilizing the solution. For example, a robot tread could be printed; that tread may not be as good as an OEM part, but the part will get the soldier through their next mission.”

The R-FAB “kits” will contain all things necessary for designing and 3D printing such stopgap parts, including a 3D printer, software, and tooling, as well as a database of approved design files that soldiers can browse to find existing parts and solutions.

Testing has already begun on the R-FAB project, and initial reports suggest that soldiers could benefit greatly from the new fabrication capabilities.

“R-FAB's participation in Army Warfighting Assessment 17.1 showed us that soldiers from [an] alternate Military Occupational Specialty can easily learn to print and design,” Pinson said. “The lessons we learn from R-FAB will help us utilize the many benefits of additive manufacturing; at the same time, our workforce is ready to maximize those efforts.”

Army engineers say that R-FAB 3D printing kits would be supplied “as close to point of need as possible,” to any maintenance group or unit that is deployed with limited supply support.

“There are other potential solutions for expeditionary AM but the R-FAB system is focusing on meeting several Army warfighter challenges,” commented James Zunino, a materials engineer at the Armament Engineering Analysis & Manufacturing Directorate at ARDEC.

Earlier this year, researchers at ARDEC used additive manufacturing for a more explosive purpose: fabricating a 3D printed grenade launcher called RAMBO (Rapid Additively Manufactured Ballistics Ordnance). The grenade launcher was successfully test-fired.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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