May 28, 2014

The U.S. Army is looking to expand the possibilities for 3D printing by partnering with NASA and the University of Alabama in Huntsville to promote this emerging technology.

In May 2014, leaders from the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC) and NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) officially established an Additive Manufacturing Integrated Product Team (IPT) to engage in research and development of additive manufacturing.

"When you come to learn and appreciate the potential of AM, it's hard not to judge this as a true game-changer; one that will ultimately have far reaching, historical impacts onto our society at-large," said acting AMRDEC Director James Lackey.

AMRDEC is looking currently at trade studies investigating AM, to minimize cost and optimized performance of missile structures, using topology optimization routines to enhance design and analysis of AM built structures, and characterizing materials and processes for specific missile applications.

"Teaming with NASA MSFC and other partners, AMRDEC will investigate procurements of AM machines to support our research needs, build a cadre of engineers and scientists savvy on this technology, fabricate and performance test qualify components for ground and flight test," he said.

Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, had a high level of interest for AMRDEC and NASA. The U.S. Army's Rapid Equipping Force (REF) deployed mobile laboratories to the war zone in Afghanistan back in 2012/2013. The lab costs about $2.8 million each and includes a 3D Printer and a CNC machine for producing parts and components from steel and aluminum. The lab allows soldiers at the war zone to design, modify and produce parts themselves and no long have to ask help back in the states. And researchers at Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey, a military research and manufacturing facility, are using additive manufacturing and 3D printing to print electronics, weapon components, and training models.

At NASA, the revolution is already under way. NASA engineers at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., has already finished testing a rocket engine injector made through additive manufacturing. Led by NASA's Space Technology Mission Direc­torate, the agency has launched a number of formal programs to prototype new tools for current and future missions using additive manufacturing. Meanwhile, NASA is planning to launch the first 3D printer to International Space Station in 2014. If successful, the 3D Printing in Zero G Experiment will be the first device to manufacture parts in space. Moreover, researchers at NASA and Stanford University are trying to 3D print cell clusters that can produce non-living structural biomaterials like bone minerals, tooth enamel and wood in space.

Dr. Dale Thomas, Marshall Center's associate director, technical, signed the IPT charter for NASA. "Additive manufacturing is a step toward the future," he said. "It is changing the way organizations design and manufacture products around the world, and space is one of the key places where humanity will see the impact of this technology."

Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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Matthew doherty wrote at 5/28/2014 4:47:25 PM:

Very interesting and revolutionary with the battle assests of mobile labs able to produce parts without putting vechicles out of comission for too long.

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