Aug 16, 2017 | By Benedict

A Marine Corps battalion is conducting an evaluation of X-FAB (expeditionary fabrication), a self-contained, transportable additive manufacturing lab containing four 3D printers, a scanner, and CAD software for the fast fabrication of replacement parts.

3D printing in the military is on the rise. From self-repairing trucks to 3D printed grenade launchers, we are constantly inundated with news about additive developments in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.

Although progress can be seen in every corner, it might be the Marine Corps which has been the most active in 3D printing innovation in recent times. That trend looks set to continue with the trial of X-FAB, a 20-by-20-foot 3D printing lab for making replacement and repair parts in the field.

A field user evaluation of the additive manufacturing lab was kicked off in July by machinists from the 2nd Maintenance Battalion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Set to continue until September 1, the evaluation was organized by Marine Corps Systems Command (MCSC) and Marine Corps Installations and Logistics.

“Additive manufacturing is perfectly suited for the machinist community’s mission,” said Ed Howell, program manager for Supply and Maintenance Systems at MCSC. “We don’t know where the technology will take us, but this is a great opportunity to find out what Marines think about it and explore the viability of additive manufacturing for the C7912 Shop Equipment, Machine Shop.”

Shop Equipment, Machine Shop (SEMS) is a deployable shelter equipped with a milling machine, lathe, and other tools for the reparation of vehicles, weapons, and other items. X-FAB has been earmarked as a “complementary capability” for the Marine Corps’ intermediate-level maintenance shops that already use SEMS.

One big advantage of the X-FAB 3D printing lab would be reducing the battalion’s overall load and logistics footprint, since many spare parts could safely be left behind and replaced with as-needed 3D printed alternatives.

“X-FAB will also enable us to better support Marines by getting platforms back in the fight faster,” commented Master Sgt. Carlos Lemus, staff noncommissioned officer in charge of the Additive Manufacturing and Innovation Cell with 2nd Maintenance Battalion. “We are looking to exploit this capability, because it has the potential to cut out the time it takes to order and receive parts; instead of waiting weeks or a month for a part, our machinists can get the part out by the end of the day.”

But perhaps the most exciting aspect of the X-FAB is how it encourages Marines of every rank to think about innovative solutions to practical problems. Although it is not the primary duty of Privates to come up with ways to improve the armed forces, sometimes those on the ground are in the best place to see what improvements are needed and where. With X-FAB, their ideas will be listened to and potentially turned into 3D printed solutions.

“In a contested environment where ships cannot easily land, or airplanes cannot necessarily fly in and deliver goods, Marines need a way to support themselves—at least temporarily,” said Lt. Col. Howie Marotto, Additive Manufacturing lead at Marine Corps Installations and Logistics. “The deployable X-FAB would give them another outlet to supply themselves until the regular logistics or supply chain can support them. In some cases, they can even create a capability they didn’t have before, like 3D printed drones.”

Weighing around 10,500 pounds fully equipped, X-FAB can be set up by a team of four Marines in two to three hours. It is transportable by truck, and runs on generator or shore power.

Throughout the evaluation of the X-FAB 3D printing lab, Marines will give feedback on how the system is performing, “on everything from the size and layout of the shelter, and capability of the printers and software, to the quality of the printing materials and finished products.” This feedback will help improve future versions of the lab, which could be deployed on ships.

“We plan to integrate X-FAB into various environments and see what’s within the realm of possibilities,” said Ted Roach, a program analyst in MCSC’s Supply and Maintenance Systems. “With additive manufacturing, you’re only limited by the size of your printer and your imagination.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Anthony Tran wrote at 8/16/2017 6:16:12 PM:

Hey that a Cosine Printer!

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