U.S. Military Adopts the Power of 3-D Printed 'Game Changer' Tech
3D Printer Innovations Advance & Boost Supply Chains
From October 2-3, Europe will host the 8th European Congress on Printing and Additive Manufacturing, drawing attention to the newfound amplification of 3-D printing in industry. The defense industry has proven to be an adopter of the innovations industry leaders meet to discuss.
In September, 3-D printing experts made note that even the sophisticated innovations of the defense industry have benefited from 3-D printing technologies. In September, United States military leadership commented on the "great strides" that U.S. defense manufacturing has achieved through 3-D printing tools.
Additive manufacturing is being hailed as a “game changer” for the military, thanks to its capacity to facilitate rapid repairs of aircraft after bird strikes, as well as accelerating the development of hypersonic weapons and other components.
The Deputy Director of the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Manufacturing Technology Program, Keith DeVries, spoke about the advances of additive manufacturing during a Defense News webcast on Wednesday. He noted that 3D printing can create “one-off” spare parts to repair aircraft or other systems that might otherwise have to wait long periods for a replacement component to work its way through a slow supply chain.
The scale of objects that can be 3D printed has also increased, to the point where entire structures such as houses can be built this way. To that end, the Defense Department has taken note of these advancements and is looking for ways to apply them.
Additive manufacturing has advanced from its early days, when it made objects from more fragile polymers to materials with higher tensile strength. Today, these manufacturing techniques create objects from high-entropy metals that are particularly strong and stand up to wear and tear, using lasers to melt metals that can withstand high temperatures and allowing more complex shapes to be crafted.
Hypersonic weapons are an example of a program where additive manufacturing can be useful. Scramjet propulsion systems that are central to some hypersonics, for example, require complex chambers that can be difficult to make. But 3D printing these components is allowing hypersonic weapons manufacturers “some fantastic capabilities,” DeVries said.
Additive manufacturing would allow scramjet components to be made from high-temperature metals in a way that eliminates the need to have complex welds or brazing joints. Those joints need to be tested to ensure they’re sound, he said, but a component made via additive manufacturing that doesn’t have those joints won’t need such testing.
DeVries cautioned, however, that traditional manufacturing techniques such as casting and forging still have a place, and warned the DoD and manufacturers should only seek to replace those techniques with additive manufacturing “in a very intentional and frankly limited way.”
“We want to treat [additive manufacturing] as a tool in the toolkit, and we want to apply it exactly where it’s necessary, and where it adds the most value,” DeVries said, as he was quoted by C4ISRNet.