3D printers are used extensively in engineering, architecture and product design – and now they’re being embraced by the US army. In order to cut the costs of acquiring spare parts for weapons and equipment, the US military is currently developing its own rapid prototyping device. This small 3D printer is cheaper and lighter than many existing models and can replicate parts for the sensitive instruments and systems used by the military.
The Future Warfare center at Space and Missile Defense Command in Alabama has been developing a 3D printer as an alternative current commercial models. Their early prototype cost $695, compared to $3000 for a commercial printer. The 3D printers can now be shipped to the frontline, as mobile production labs, which can create parts from aluminum, plastic and steel.
“Instead of needing a massive manufacturing logistics chain, a device that generates replacement parts is now small and light enough to be easily carried in a backpack or on a truck,” said operations research analyst D. Shannon Berry. “The ability to replicate parts quickly and cheaply is a huge benefit to the warfighter,” he added.
Rapid prototyping, a method of forming objects by melting and shaping plastic and other materials into a design dictated by a data file, is becoming increasingly common in numerous disciplines. The use of this technology in civilian manufacturing has been increasing, with $30 million of government money being invested in a national 3D printing center in Youngstown, Ohio this August.