Almost from the very beginning of the existence of additive technologies, the arms industry was one of the main recipients of 3D printers, using their capabilities for rapid prototyping and specialized low-series production. At the same time, for several years, from time to time, ideas appeared to make 3D printers have a greater share in the operational activity of the troops and to leave the research and development laboratories into the fields of war. Although at first glance this type of idea seems to be a less than serious, it turns out that the US Ministry of National Defense looks at this matter quite differently …
US Army secretary Ryan McCarthy announced at a recent press conference at the Reagan National Defense Forum that 3D printing technology is one area that will be particularly adapted to military operations – in particular, spare parts production.
What really kills us is parts: it’s why weapon systems have challenging operational readiness rates, it’s why weapon systems continue to get heavier over time as you incrementally upgrade the system.
Currently, the US Army uses additive technologies in a relatively limited range. The production of spare parts for weapons, vehicles or defense systems is still largely based on external partners – including components printed on 3D printers. To reduce costs and improve process efficiency, the US military will switch to the production of spare parts on its own. In the long run, the idea that divisions should be equipped with mobile 3D printing centers within military operations ceases seems real. With their help, you can produce lightweight and more economical components of military equipment that will replace damaged or missing parts.
Quite frankly the defense industry is paying close attention to 3D printing because parts are like razor blades to a defense company—you’re constantly buying new ones. It’s an incredible business model, they make a lot of money on it. So we’re trying to push them to say help us do this. There may be a challenge with intellectual property where we will argue and have challenges, but we‘ll get through it.
It is worth mentioning that regardless of the “traditional” 3D printing methods used to produce spare parts from metals or plastics, the US Army is testing less obvious additive techniques such as bioprinting or 3D printing with concrete.
At the beginning of 2019, nScrypt announced that it was working on a dedicated, reinforced 3D bio-printer for military applications. The device adapted to the needs of the army will be (been?) delivered to an undisclosed military unit operating in the world, where its usefulness will be assessed.
Even more interesting is the concept of a 3D printer for concrete used by the US Marines to print defensive and engineering structures from concrete, such as trench covers, barracks, or bridge elements.