U.S. Military Joins the 3D Printing Revolution

The U.S. military has caught the additive manufacturing fever and is embracing the technology like many hobbyists and corporations have already done. The military is taking the 3D printing technology and really pushing the boundaries of innovation with the development of bomb detectors and prototype limbs. The Army has even gone so far as to deploy a helicopter-borne 3D-printing laboratory to Afghanistan.

Earlier this week Wired posted an article outlining the use of 3D printing in the military and it gives you an idea of how far reaching this technology goes. Below are some of their examples:

  • For the Army, additive manufacturing work has been taken up by the Research, Development and Engineering Command as well as the Army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC), the Army’s center for research on defending against a toxic attack. At Edgewood, researchers work in a lab with a number of high-end printers, where they are designing printable holders for the military’s Minehound bomb detectors. The Army also recently revealed the center is preparing to produce thousands of the holders — which are designed to take weight off soldiers’ backs — and do so relatively quickly.
  • The Army also touted the idea of using the printers to scan soldiers into a 3-D model before they deploy to a battlefield. The plan is to make it easier for the Army to build a prosthesis for a missing limb that’s “exactly how the soldier used to look — instead of sculpting it and scanning it.”
  • The Army deployed its first mobile 3-D printing laboratory to Afghanistan inside a shipping container capable of being carried by helicopter. The Army plans to deploy another lab to Afghanistan this fall while a third lab stays stateside.
  • The Army Medical Command announced a solicitation that sought to buy a 3-D printer for the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The purpose was to use a printer to “fabricate pre-surgical physical models” as well as “guides, templates, custom implants, rehabilitation devices, anatomical models with segmented anatomical features,” among other uses. Another recent solicitation sought a printer to be used for Army dentistry. The Army didn’t go into details, but the printers are likely to be used for making dental prosthetics, an already common practice in medical offices.
  • The Navy has fielded interest in developing swarms of micro-robots to print and assemble objects on their own.
  • At Sheppard Air Force base 3D printers are used to make training mock-ups of drones.

It is no surprise that the military is flocking to the world of 3D printing. Relatively speaking, 3D printers are cost-efficient and save (precious) time during the development and manufacturing stages of product development. As the article states, “Time is money in manufacturing, and being able to build a prototype within hours as opposed to days — or a piece of equipment in days as opposed to weeks — saves on both.”

To read the entire Wired article click here.

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