How 3D printing can aid the military supply chain

U.S. government technology agencies such as NASA have been demonstrating new 3D printing capabilities, including a recent “zero-G technology demonstration” aboard the International Space Station.

The Navy also is getting into the act as it seeks to address supply chain issues via the additive manufacturing process that could speed the delivery of parts and equipment to sailors “just in time.”

At the recent Sea-Air-Space Expo, Navy engineer Steve Price displays a small additively manufactured modular payload multi-rotor drone, capable of accepting a variety of payloads.“Additive manufacturing could bring about revolutionary changes to the Navy supply system, with an associated paradigm shift from the current order and stocking system to implementation of just-in-time inventory,” Capt. Armen Kurdian, director of engineering and product support for the Navy Supply Command, predicted during a an event hosted by Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) in Dahlgren, Va. “It has the potential to move the point of manufacture for hundreds of components and parts closer to the point of demand.”

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Is 3D printed titanium fatally flawed?

The question of strength in 3D printed materials is one which has held it back from exploding across manufacture.  The initial indicates from NASA-based research were promising, and other manufacturers, notably GE and Airbus, have embarked down the path to making end user parts out of metal.  New research, however, may change things.


Titanium has become a firm favorite for the medical and aerospace industries, but a worrying report from Carnegie Mellon University suggests that 3D printed titanium could be fatally flawed.

Deep X-rays have revealed a porosity to the material in 3D printed titanium that can be traced back to its powder-based production method.
Carnegie Mellon University is one of the world leaders in 3D printing research and has produced some stellar research over the years. It took the most common form of titanium, Ti-gAI-4V, to the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Argonne National Laboratory. There it analyzed the material with so called deep X-rays, or intense synchrotron x-rays, and an advanced rapid imaging tool.

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How 3D printing is transforming manufacturing: An interview with Shapeways CEO Peter Weijmarshausen

Peter Weijmarshausen is the CEO and Co-Founder of Shapeways, the world’s leading 3D printing marketplace and community. [Full disclosure: my venture firm Lux Capital is an equity investor]. Prior to Shapeways, Peter was the CTO of Sangine, where he and his team designed and developed satellite broadband modems. Peter was also Director of Engineering at Aramiska, where he was responsible for delivering a business broadband service via satellite. Earlier in his career, Peter worked as ICT manager for Not a Number where he facilitated the adoption of the widely successful open source 3D software Blender. Peter was born and raised in the Netherlands and moved to New York in 2010.

What is the current state of 3D printing technology?

3D printing is the transforming manufacturing into a digital technology for the first time, moving us from an analog to a digital realm. This changes all the rules of the game. It changes who is in control, because analog manufacturing requires big companies to produce large quantities of the same good. These companies need to have the capital to deploy these large quantities and an understanding of which goods will be economically viable. Analog manufacturing requires market research, prototyping, focus group research, and the supply chain and retail channels to distribute products.

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Caterpillar launches 3D printing and innovation accelerator

Good to see more mnaufacturers pursuing 3D printing as a production approach.


Given the possibilities of 3D printing to create new, efficient designs and to reduce overall inventory for manufacturers, it should be no surprise that world-leading machinery producer Caterpillar Inc. has embraced the technology as well, with the launch of the Caterpillar 3D Printing & Innovation Accelerator. The launch of the new tech ecosystem corresponds with the opening of three new innovation spaces at Caterpillar’s Global Research & Development Center in Mossville, Illinois.

Caterpillar’s new Additive Manufacturing Factory features 10 industrial 3D printers using different technologies. (Image courtesy of Caterpillar.)

Like many manufacturers, Caterpillar has been using 3D printing for prototyping for some time. The company has printed 50,000 models for rapid prototyping purposes over the last 25 years. At the moment, Caterpillar already operates more than 80 different 3D printers throughout its business, including approximately 30 industrial systems and 50 desktop 3D printers. The 3D Printing & Innovation Accelerator will see the company further implement this technology through three new spaces that represent different parts of the manufacturing process: the Innovation Accelerator, the Additive Manufacturing Factory, and the Cat® MicroFoundry.

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Military 3D Printing applications to transform the industry

It is no secret that all branches of the United States military have been keeping a close eye on 3D printing technology. With the variety of uses across all industries, 3D printing has proven its versatility. Besides the ongoing research in a number of directions, such as 3D printing of replacement bones, battle armor, and vehicle parts, the Navy has already successfully tested ballistic missiles containing 3D printed components.

According to Business Insider, new interest is being shown in the field recently, as many patents on the original technology are expiring, thereby allowing for competition that will result in better quality products at a much lower cost. The first major patents expired in 2009 allowing new printers capable of using metal, wood, and fabric to become more available.

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German railway company Deutsche Bahn to set up supply chain for 3D printed spare parts

The ability to 3D print spare parts in a moment’s notice is exactly why NASA is experimenting with zero-gravity 3D printing, but this application can also be a huge advantage down here on earth. German national railway company Deutsche Bahn has also recognized the advantages of low storage costs and custom-fitting production, and is hoping to apply that to their own rail network in the near future. To realize this, they have just set up a collaboration of companies, startups and research institutes called Mobility goes Additive, which will explore possibilities and promote end-product 3D printing.

The existence of Mobility goes Additive has recently been confirmed by Deutsche Bahn’s innovation manager Stefanie Bricwede, who talked about their plans and ambitions during the 3D Druck für Automotive conference in Ettlingen, Germany. As she explained at the event, they decided to set up a separate cluster of partners to increase the focus on ground-based mobility. 3D printing innovations, she says, are currently mostly being driven by the aviation industry and therefore dictated by an obsession with weight. But companies like Deutsche Bahn focus on completely different advantages, and therefore require a different approach.

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3D Printing plays key role in meeting industry challenges

Industry demands such as lightweighting are requiring suppliers to take an active role in developing new products with new materials at a faster pace. Robust 3D printing services are helping to meet this demand.

As automation software and connected machinery continue to undergo technological advances, manufacturing suppliers find themselves in the advantageous position to help companies from nearly every major industry develop products faster and more cost-effectively than ever before, thereby enabling innovation and rapid commercialization.

To fully leverage this modern-day manufacturing automation, it is important for manufacturing suppliers to recognize the current trends and challenges that product designers and engineers from different industries are facing — automakers are tackling stiff fuel economy regulations, an aging population is demanding user-centric devices, aircraft developers are working diligently to replace obsolete consumer technology on planes as well as to lighten the load to meet fuel-efficiency targets.

The best manufacturing suppliers recognize and adapt to these important industry trends by offering manufacturing services that help meet industry expectations and regulatory mandates.

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Big changes coming to the supply line, just not where you thought they’d be

Self-Driving TruckWhen talking about exciting new advancements that are coming to the supply chain, the discussion will always usually end up focused around 3D printing. Rightly so, as the 3D printer has opened up new opportunities never before possible in the supply chain. Rather than having to wait for a specialized part, companies can now print the part they need right on site. This can be a huge time and cost saver for companies involved in projects, but when looking at the overall supply chain worldwide, 3D printing is a pretty niche example. Even with 3D printers popping up everywhere, changing the way companies rely on the supply chain, there will always be limitations.

Sure, 3D printers might be able to print space habitats on Mars, but they can’t print everything and there will always be a need to transport an item(s) from one destination to another. 3D printing is revolutionary, but there is another absolute game changer about to deploy in the supply side that is an evolution; self-driving trucks. When looking at the amount of freight moved just in America alone, there was 9.2 billion tons (primary shipment only) moved by truck representing 67% of the total tonnage moved in 2011.

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3D printing technology payoff beyond imagination

Skeptical about all the hype around 3D printing technology? We ain’t seen nothin’ yet, says SearchCIO columnist Harvey Koeppel.

The buzz about 3D printing comes with the usual pontification that occurs every time a new technology passes the novelty stage into the realm where real money can be made. Canalys, a market research firm, predicts the global market for 3D printers and services will grow from $2.5 billion in 2013 to $16.2 billion in 2018, a compound annual growth rate of 45.7%.

Thirty-two years after Charles Hull created the first functional 3D printer, pundits are hailing the “new” technology as everything from disruptive innovation to the next Industrial Revolution. But you won’t find me badmouthing the Johnny-come-lately labels. Personally, I believe the current descriptions vastly underestimate the potential impact of 3D printing technology and its inevitable derivative technologies.

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Military 3D printing applications to transform the industry

It is no secret that all branches of the United States military have been keeping a close eye on 3D printing technology. With the variety of uses across all industries, 3D printing has proven its versatility. Besides the ongoing research in a number of directions, such as 3D printing of replacement bones, battle armor, and vehicle parts, the Navy has already successfully tested ballistic missiles containing 3D printed components.

According to Business Insider, new interest is being shown in the field recently, as many patents on the original technology are expiring, thereby allowing for competition that will result in better quality products at a much lower cost. The first major patents expired in 2009 allowing new printers capable of using metal, wood, and fabric to become more available.

The US military is already investing heavily into research to print uniforms, synthetic skin and food, said ISH Technology analyst Alex Chausovsky.

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