Oct 4, 2017 | By Tess

The U.S. military is a big proponent of 3D printing technologies, consistently exploring new applications for the technology in order to develop improved devices and equipment and also for on-the-ground manufacturing.

One of the main uses for 3D printing in the military at the moment is the manufacturing of bespoke drones. Earlier this week, for instance, we wrote about how a Marines task force was building 3D printed “Nibbler” drones in the Middle East using an experimental 3D printing lab.

Now, marines from the 2nd Marine Division are using 3D printing to manufacture small unmanned aerial systems (SUAS). This particular drone project is taking place at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

The 3D printed SUAS initiative has relied on the varied expertise of the Marines division. As the Marines website states: “The technicians and engineers with U.S. Army Research Lab gathered Marines from different military occupational specialties to demonstrate the usefulness and convenience of the additive manufactured small unmanned aerial systems.”

The best part about the 3D printed SUAS drones, and the thing that sets them apart from their traditionally manufactured counterparts, is that they can be adapted and modified for particular applications. For instance, if they are to be used for surveillance missions, they might have different components than a drone used for an intelligence mission.

Eric Spero, a team leader in the vehicle technology directorate of the U.S. Army Research Lab, explained: “We have different cameras such as infrared and a day camera; there are different things we can do like stream the video to systems or a heads-up display and record it for later viewing.”

Another benefit of 3D printing the SUAS is that the technology allows them to be produced much more quickly and in an on-demand fashion, meaning that soldiers in the field could potentially manufacture drones as needed and for various uses.

In fact, the process for manufacturing the SUAS seems remarkably simple, as a catalogue of different 3D printable drone parts has been established. This system allows military members to simply choose the SUAS that their mission requires and have the 3D files downloaded to be sent to the printer.

“Basically what we are doing is combining two emerging technologies,” commented John Gerdes, a mechanical engineer at the U.S. Army Research Lab. “We have taken 3D printing and quadcopters and created a means of giving troops a customized vehicle right when they need it, with the capabilities they need from it, on demand.”

(Images: U.S. Marine Corps / Taylor W. Cooper)

Impressively, a SUAS can reportedly be 3D printed, assembled, and dispatched within a 24-hour period. “These craft are the future because they’re protected by obsolescence,” added Gerdes. “We are able to give troops the technology almost immediately by printing new parts and making slight adjustments so they will always have a craft that is able to complete the mission.”

The 3D printed SUAS drones were recently tested by the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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