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US Army explores 3D-printing

26th May 2017 - 15:30 GMT | by The Shephard News Team


The US Army’s Armament Research Development and Engineering Center at Picatinny Arsenal has manufactured a 3-D printed grenade launcher as the army explores the potential for 3-D printed parts to customize or replace broken components in the field.

Shown off as part of the Department of Defense’s ‘Lab Day’, the launcher is constructed of mostly plastic with an aluminum barrel printed using a laser sintering process. Laser sintering is where powdered aluminum serves as the raw material, and a laser pointed at the powder heats up certain portions to melt it into a solid. Using this process, the printers were able to generate a complete all-metal barrel for the launcher, along with the plastic upper.

The army is looking at the possibility that parts could be manufactured to modify existing weapons to make them fit the needs of the soldiers who will use them.

James L Zunino, a materials engineer at the centre, said: ‘It's for things the soldiers could modify for themselves, you could do mass customization, you could print in the field.

‘If you prefer a 45-degree grip on the front ... you could print that in the field. Or if you wanted to use a 90-degree grip, you could have that. Then you can actually tailor a weapon for how the soldier wants to use and operate it. If you want to add more Picatinny rails, to add your flashlight mounts, or different scopes, you could easily do that.’

Another possibility is that soldiers will be able to print parts on-the-fly to repair broken gear in theatre using the army's Rapid Fabrication via Additive Manufacturing on the Battlefield (RFAB) capability.

The RFAB assembles several commercial 3-D printing technologies into one portable facility. The capability has already been to the Army Warfighter Assessment at Fort Bliss, Texas, and has demonstrated the ability to print up treads and flippers for the UGVs used to disable IEDs.

An improved version of the RAFB will be used at the upcoming Pacific Pathways in Japan and Thailand this summer; it will also go to Joint Warfighter Assessment 18 in Europe next spring.

The facility is set to be enhanced with the Raptor software catalogue of nearly 500 commonly-broken parts that have already been stored as digital files for 3-D printing.

The Shephard News Team


The Shephard News Team

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