Army takes 3-D printing to Afghan war zone

The Army has joined the growing 3D printing movement, deploying mobile laboratories to Afghanistan equipped with prototyping and printing equipment that can create tools and other gear for soldiers on the spot, reports GCN, a sister publication of Defense Systems.

The service’s Rapid Equipping Force delivered the first Expeditionary Lab - Mobile in July, as part of its effort to cut down the time it takes for innovations to reach the field, Military.com reported.  A second lab is expected to arrive in the fall, the story said.

The REF has been accelerating the delivery of equipment to the field for 10 years, but until now the process often depended on needs statements for new gear, a process that could take months. The new labs, made of 20-foot shipping containers equipped with lab gear, prototyping machines, 3D printers and other manufacturing tools, would be operated in the field and can greatly shorten the process, according to media reports.

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has been around for decades, but of late has been making some giant leaps. Here's how it works: The process begins with a computer-aided design file which is separated into layers of thin, horizontal cross-sections, the story said. The printers — which can range from small, ink-jet-like models to large, industrial printers — apply the manufacturing material in layers that correspond to the design, often through a nozzle or die. The printers in the Army’s expeditionary lab, for instance, can print plastic as well as steel and aluminum.

 

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