The US military has not shied away from implementing modern manufacturing methods such as 3D printing, but has actually embraced the technology. In fact, the US Air Force has used 3D printing for multiple projects, including components for aircraft and fighter jets, such as the F-35. This is what’s known as a next-generation fighter, and the 388th Maintenance Group of the Hill Air Force Base in Utah recently began 3D printing specific replacement parts for the F-35. Base officials are hoping that the technology will help to lower costs and increase availability.
A team of researchers at RMIT University (Melbourne, Australia) is using laser metal deposition technology (a 3D printing technique) to build and repair defense aircraft parts in a two-year collaboration with RUAG Australia (Bayswater, Australia) and the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC; Carlton, Australia).
Laser metal deposition technology feeds metal powder into a laser beam, which when scanned across a surface adds new material in a precise, web-like formation. The metallurgical bond created has mechanical properties similar, or in some cases superior, to those of the original material. “It’s basically a very high-tech welding process where we make or rebuild metal parts layer by layer,” explains Professor Milan Brandt, who is leading the work. He says the concept is proven and prospects for its successful development are extremely positive.
Lt. Gen. Michael Dana, the Marine Corps’ deputy commandant for Installations and Logistics (I&L), says the next generation of Marine Corps trucks could use smart diagnostics to identify worn-out parts and automatically place orders for 3D printed replacements.
Smart systems are about more than turning off your household lights with a smartphone. According to top staff in the Marine Corps, the next generation of 7-ton trucks could use a highly connected infrastructure to diagnose and automatically replace worn-out parts with 3D printed replacements.
Lt. Gen. Michael Dana, the Marine Corps’ deputy commandant for Installations and Logistics (I&L), says the process for installing such systems is already underway,
Last year, Marines at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri took 20-odd military vehicles, including 7-ton Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacements (MTVRs) and Logistics Vehicle System Replacements (LVSRs), and equipped them with special engine sensors that could diagnose the imminent failure of key components.