Apr 5, 2018 | By David

Recent research carried out by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the U.S. Marine Corps has proven the effectiveness of a new method of sourcing 3D printing materials, which could prove invaluable for armed forces on the battlefield. They processed the PET plastic from plastic bottles and other packaging into a viable 3D printer filament. This points the way forward for waste materials from the battlefield being used in order to 3D print items on-demand, increasing combat readiness.

(credit: U.S. Army/Jhi Scott)

The military has been looking into exploiting the potential of 3D printing technology for some time now. The ease with which it can be used to produce equipment and other necessary items at a low cost is appealing from a logistics point of view. Units currently tend to stockpile large amounts of spare parts to be used in case of emergencies, as equipment can be depleted or damaged during combat and it is also difficult to predict failures and the lifecycle of particular parts.

This stockpiling proves to be a huge burden to the military in terms of cost, as well as drastically increasing the risk to soldiers who have to transport these non-essential backup materials. The implementation of 3D printing would allow just the required parts to be produced by a unit, as and when they are needed.

"The potential applications for additive manufacturing technologies are extensive—everything from pre-production models and temporary parts to end-use aircraft parts and medical implants," said ARL researcher Dr. Nicole Zander.

(credit: Jermaine Barnaby)

Making use of 3D printing technology to create items when needed instead of carrying extra parts would be advantageous, but it would still entail transporting large amounts of 3D printer material alongside the 3D printers themselves. The burden could be reduced even further if this 3D printer material could be procured on-site. This is what led to the research into the conversion of PET plastic items into 3D printer feedstock. PET plastic is one of the main waste products generated by soldiers in battlefield situations, and the large volumes of it can prove to be an issue for the local environment. Properly disposing of the waste thus becomes another large logistics cost. The process of recycling this waste, transforming it rapidly into something useful, would therefore be another way to increase the efficiency of military operations.

According to Zander, "Recycled polymers have a variety of different additives, fillers and dyes and may have experienced different processing conditions – even for the same polymer type.''

This meant that extensive chemical and thermal tests had to be carried out on the recycled PET plastics, to make sure that they were suitable. As for the mechanical tests, a 3D printed radio bracket made from recycled PET filament was tested out with increasing loads, and was found to fail at a similar level to standard commercial ABS filaments.

''Most polymers used in FFF have bulk strengths between 30 and 100 MPa'', said Zander. ''Recycled PET has an average strength of 70 MPa, and thus may be a suitable 3-D printing feedstock.''

The military researchers are now building a mobile recycling facility to let soldiers use recycled plastics for 3D printing. It will be housed in a 20ft ISO container, with all equipment and tools needed to fabricate 3D printing filament from plastic waste.



Posted in 3D Printing Materials

Source: US Army


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