Oct 27, 2016 | By Nick

The US Marines have started testing additive manufacturing in the field and it could pave the way for the military to carry 3D printers as a matter of course.

Marine Wing Support Squadron 372 (MWSS-372) is serving as the testbed for 3D printing. Commandant of the Marine Corps General Robert Neller has issued an interim policy on additive manufacturing in the field that suggests that 3D printers could soon be standard issue.

The advantages are obvious. The Marines and other military units are often deployed in remote regions and there is a limit to how much equipment they can take along for the ride. A 3D printer, though, could allow them to print thousands of basic parts, from water bottles to spares for a rifle or truck and even simple tools. In a crunch situation, literally any one of these could mean the difference between life and death.

A 3D printer could be one of the most powerful weapons in the Marine Corps’ arsenal as it means they can create thousands of different components on the fly and keep all their equipment and vehicles performing at their peak. It goes beyond simple parts for the equipment, too, as soldiers in the field could produce water bottles and even basic taps that could give them clean drinking water and help them survive in adverse conditions in the desert, the mountains and more. It’s certainly an intriguing prospect for the top brass.

Captain Marc Blair is a combat engineer with Marine Wing Support Squadron 372. After he attended a presentation on 3D printing, he took the lead on a project that could change the way the military works in the field.

Now the military is starting simple, with an Invent3D 3D printer with a single extrusion head and a maximum temperature of 220 degrees Celsius. That means the team is limited to creating plastic parts, for now, but combat engineers are resourceful folk and the chance to create a plastic clip or screw means they can often fix broken metallic parts without having to switch them out entirely.

The team can also manufacture functional parts from plastic. Just because the OEM manufacturer opted for metal for durability reasons, in a pinch the soldiers on the ground could make up new parts from plastic. They might not last as long, but if they get the job done in an emergency then the troops will take that.

So far the team has shown how effective the 3D printer can be by producing a new door handle for a military Humvee. To achieve that, they measured the handle by hand and entered the data into Tinkercad. In the future, though, there is real potential for the US military to build a vast library of essential components that the troops can simply print on demand.

That is already happening, in a sense, as that Humvee door handle and any successful designs now get fed into a database so that other teams can use them. It’s a start, but of course the MWSS-372 engineers are already pushing for a printer that can handle metal and rubber, which will open up a world of opportunities when it comes to producing spare parts in the field.

The Marines have already started a series of 3D printer training integration exercises in Arizona and is determined to train every squadron how to use the printers in the field. The new interim policy includes a series of safety issues, too, including instructions to print parts for vehicles in a color that stands out so that the parts can be singled out for inspection or replacement when the vehicles return to a service depot.

It is clear that the US military is taking 3D printing seriously, though, and that the Marines on active duty should soon have a potent new weapon in their arsenal that can print a vast array of mission-critical spare parts that could give them the competitive edge in some of the world’s most hostile backdrops.

Just like the brave men and women that don the uniform, the 3D printing industry is glad to be of service.



Posted in 3D Printer



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RSR wrote at 10/31/2016 8:44:39 AM:

hahahahahahaha you can tell their belt jumped a pulley tooth mid print. You can see a pronounced line where the handle comes off of the main body.

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