TECHNOLOGY: Defense Dept. and Industry Pushing 3-D Printing

August 5, 2015 at 4:54 pm Leave a comment

No Longer a Novelty.

From pizzas for the troops to small parts for aircraft, the U.S. military is moving ahead with innovations in additive manufacturing. The dual aim: to cut costs and speed up the process from design and prototyping to assembly line production.

Additive manufacturing – also known as 3-D printing – has the potential to revolutionize how manufacturing is done in the United States. With 3-D printing, designers can create a three-dimensional object from a digital file fed into a computer. The printers create the object by depositing thin layers of material – mostly plastic but metal and composite materials printers are also being used – until the component exactly matching the original blueprint is created.

Chart: Courtesy Lockheed Martin

Chart: Courtesy Lockheed Martin

The Department of Energy has estimated that the additive process could cut energy use by today’s manufacturing procedures by 50 percent. And the benefits aren’t lost on the Defense Department, which is looking for ways to cut costs and speed production in this era of tight budgets and rising energy costs.

Additive manufacturing “may profoundly change Army logistics and supply,” says Dale Ormond, director of the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM). “Imagine the possibilities of three-dimensional printed textiles, metals, integrated electronics, biogenetic materials and even food,” he wrote in Army Technology magazine’s 3-D Printing issue.

The Army is investigating 3-D printers to make food ranging from simple snacks to nutrient-rich foods that can be tailored to various environments. The Army’s Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is looking at ways the technology can be applied to the battlefield for meals on demand, or for food manufacturing where food is printed and possibly further processed to become shelf stable.

The Army is also exploring additive manufacturing of field and combat clothing to improve flexibility, air flow, and ballistic protection while reducing weight, bulk and the number of seams, which can cause friction and irritation.

The Navy, which has about 70 3-D printing projects underway, has placed one aboard a warship, the amphibious assault ship USS Essex and the crew has been making small objects like medical syringes and caps for oil tanks.

Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) plans to have an aircraft flying with a flight-critical metal spare part made by 3-D printer within three years. Printing plastic items is one thing but metal parts critical to keeping an airplane aloft is something else again.” We’re not there yet,” William Frazier, NAVAIR’s chief scientist for air vehicle engineering, told a briefing at the Navy League’s annual Sea-Air-Space Expo in April.

While the technology has been around for years, additive manufacturing got a big boost in 2012 when the Obama administration created a private-public research institute in Youngstown, Ohio, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII), with $30 million in federal funding. The departments of Defense, Energy and Commerce, as well as the National Science Foundation and NASA are all putting money into additive manufacturing.

Major defense contractors like Lockheed Martin and Boeing are also investing in 3-D printing technology. Lockheed Martin is using the technology to print titanium satellite parts and reduce cost, cycle time and material waste.

Experts on 3-D printing from the Army and Air Force research labs, industry and the National Institute of Scince and Technology (NIST) will be discussing the latest developments and government requirements at the Third Annual Additive Manufacturing for Defense and Aerospace conference in Washington August 21-September 2, hosted by IDGA.

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Entry filed under: Army, National Security and Defense, News Developments, Skills and Training, Technology, Weaponry and Equipment. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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