Aug.21, 2012

U.S. Army recently reported that the Army is deploying mobile laboratories for soldiers operating in remote outposts in Afghanistan. The mobile laboratories are standard 20-foot shipping container and packed with prototyping machines and manufacturing tools.

The soldiers at the warzone could design, modify and produce parts themselves and no long have to ask help back in the states. These labs can also be transported by truck or airlifted by helicopter. More than that, these labs can also be used to provide supports during natural disaster and human emergencies around the world.

This service is known as Rapid Equipping Force (REF), and it deployed the first mobile labs to Afghanistan's RC-South in July. The next plan will be a second expeditionary lab to RC East this fall.

"The soldiers out there, they know how to do stuff; they know how to fix stuff and they know what they need to be able to do, but what they don't have is the technical expertise in many cases to do it themselves," said Col. Pete Newell, commander of the Army's Rapid Equipping Force at Fort Belvoir, Va.

The labs cost about $2.8 million each and include a 3D Printer and a CNC machine for producing parts and components from steel and aluminum. It is also equipped with generator and heating and cooling system, satellite communications equipment for conducting video teleconferences.

In addition to the high-tech prototyping equipment, the labs include portable equipment carts filled with tools such as plasma cutters for precision metal cutting, welders, magnetic mounted drill-presses, electric hacksaws, routers, circular saws and jig saws.


Typically, each lab is manned by two engineers, one senior and one that's a bit greener with fresh ideas. They are replaced about every four months to keep a new perspective in the lab, Newell said.

Last year the Army signed a three years' support contract with a large engineering company Exponent Inc. for $9.7 million.

"When the Exponent guy in my lab has a problem, and doesn't have the expertise to come up with a solution, he types that up and opens up a VTC that … opens him up with a portal with 6,000 other engineers in Exponent," who help solve the problem, Newell said.

The REF plans to use these labs well past 2014, when soldiers leave Afghanistan. "This is really the platform for the future of the Rapid Equipping Force," Newell said.


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Posted in 3D Printing Applications




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