Aug. 1, 2014

The possibilities of 3D printing will benefit soldiers and transfrom many facets of the Army. The U.S. Army reseachers are currently exploring the frontiers of this exciting technology. The Army has deployed mobile laboratories packing with 3D printers and manufacturing tools for soldiers to operate in remote outposts in Afghanistan. The Army researchers are also investigating ways to use 3D printing to produce food for soldiers, and investing in regenerative medicine and 3-D bioprinting aiming to print skin cells to help injured soldiers recover from the wounds of war. On the other side, they also plans to use 3D printing to print more effective weapons.

According to the latest issue of Army Technology, one day, soldiers will wear field clothing and armor systems made with help of 3D printing. Researchers at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center which develops field and ombat clothing, chem-bio protection, body-armor systems, gloves, hats, helmet covers, is now experimenting making garments using new textiles and 3D printing.

They wok with 2-D design program, but are excited about the possibilities that 3D printing could offer.

"It could improve flexibility," said Annette LaFleur, Design, Pattern and Prototype team leader. "You could incorporate hard and soft materials together into one design. So, maybe you have some sort of clothing or protective item that has rigid areas that move into soft areas, where your body needs to flex. That could be really exciting because that is hard to accomplish with a regular textile."

3D printing would reduce the number of seams necessary to make a garment, making it more comfortable to wear. "Seams can cause a hot spot with rubbing," LaFleur said. "Seams can cause discomfort in high heat and humidity, especially when you layer with body armor. Reducing seams on chem-bio gear would be huge."

The technology could also be used to make custom clothing or equipment for each soldier. Advances in 3D printing would allow for incorporating ballistics materials into clothing and make it less expensive.

"We could create something that is a totally perfect fit and reduce weight, maybe reduce bulk. A lot of the neat textiles that are being 3-D printed, even out of these synthetics, have a 3-D structure to them," LaFleur said. "That makes you think about spacer-type materials where you have air flow, which is so important if our Soldiers are going to be somewhere hot again, whether it is jungle or desert."

Posted in 3D Printing Applications

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