French soldiers deployed to Operation Barkhane in the Sahel have been experimenting for several months with 3D printers to make spare parts at their base in Mali.
According to a Ministry of the Armed Forces release, Desert Tactical Group – Logistics “Charentes” is responsible for testing the feasibility of using the two 3D printers at the large base in Gao to make components.
In general, the specialists at the base a tasked to produce replacements for broken components.
They follow a familiar process – first modelling the part on a computer and then printing, testing, iterating and refining where necessary.
Small parts can be printed in minutes and more complex projects within hours, saving time and effort in transporting equipment to the relatively remote base in central Mali.
Peacekeeping missions often take place at remote locations, requiring the army to have a large supply of spare parts on site to keep everything running. Dutch researcher Bram Westerweel comes to the conclusion that taking a 3D printer on a mission to print parts can save hundreds of thousands of euros and, at the same time, reduce the downtime of defense equipment. The savings on operational costs sometimes total more than half. The findings of Westerweel, who received his Ph.D. yesterday, can also be applied to industries with remote locations, such as the offshore industry.
Quick return on investment
The army’s systems have many thousands of types of spare parts. Based on his research, Westerweel expects that a total of 10-20 percent of the components of the armed forces can be made by additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing. The total savings by 3D printing on relatively large peacekeeping missions like the ones in Mali and Sudan, could then run up to hundreds of thousands. The printer itself costs a one-off €25,000, making for a quick return on investment. The Dutch army is already experimenting with such a printer in Mali.
FORT MEADE, Md. — As 3D printing increases both in the field and at depots, the Army’s Center of Excellence for Additive and Advanced Manufacturing is slated to reach initial operating capability this year at Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois.
Lt. Gen. Aundre Piggee, the Army’s deputy chief of staff, G-4, outlined the Army’s current 3D printing capabilities at the 2019 Military Additive Manufacturing Summit and Technology Showcase Feb. 6, in Tampa, Florida.
At the summit, defense, academia, and industry officials were privy to the latest additive manufacturing technologies, event officials said. The Army will leverage these improved 3D printing capabilities to bolster equipment readiness and reduce logistics burdens, Piggee said.
MCAS Iwakuni engineers have devised two products that reduce the time it takes to repair the fighter jets, saving costs for the U.S. Department of Defense. The products help with the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) of the fighter jets, covering all tasks carried out to ensure the airworthiness of an flight vehicle.
The 3D printed products include an engine ship kit, designed by the Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 12 (MALS 12), and a plastic ring kit that helps the maintenance of the bearings on the F/A-18’s Gatling gun.
Frustrated by the unresponsiveness of traditional supply chains, Marines from the 29 Palms base generated the concept of converting standard utility vehicles into customizable transport suited for a diverse range of missions.
“This install marks a significant advancement in the Navy’s ability to make parts on demand and combine NAVSEA’s strategic goal of on-time delivery of ships and submarines while maintaining a culture of affordability,” said Rear Admiral Lorin Selby, NAVSEA Chief Engineer and Deputy Commander for Ship Design, Integration, and Naval Engineering.
The U.S. Naval Air System Command (NAVAIR) is ramping up production of 3D printed parts.
System Command estimates that it will have approximately 1,000 3D printed parts approved for use across the fleet before the end of 2018. Currently only 135 3D printed parts are authorised for use.
3D printing helmets to flight-critical parts
3D printed parts will be used in a range of Naval applications, from modifications to helmets to critical parts for aircraft: NAVAIR categorizes parts depending on their air-worthiness. Parts not requiring airworthiness can be fabricated more quickly.
In 2016 NAVAIR proved that 3D printing could be used to produce safety-critical parts with the successful flight of an MV-22B Osprey, fitted with a 3D printed titanium engine nacelle link and attachment. Last spring, a 3D printed flip-top valve was added to the T-45 Goshawk breathing mask, allowing pilots in training to breathe cabin air up to a certain altitude. 300 valves were printed within a month without which training would have been impossible.
Boeing is co-operating with Swiss engineering group Oerlikon to jointly develop additive manufacturing processes in a bid to accelerate the technology’s wider employment.
Oerlikon says it signed a five-year collaboration agreement with the US airframer to create “standard materials and processes” for the production of “structural” titanium components through 3D printing.
“The research will initially focus on industrialising titanium powder bed fusion additive manufacturing and ensuring parts made with this process meet the flight requirements of the US Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Defense,” says Oerlikon.