US Army researchers use 3D printers for rapid prototypes

The U.S. Army researchers use cutting edge 3D printers develop solutions for America’s Soldiers.

In the lab of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, researchers use computers, lasers and 3D printers for rapid prototypes every day.

It’s allowed us to develop items for the warfighter quicker,” said Rapid Technologies Branch Chief Rick Moore, Edgewood Chemical Biological Center. “We’re able to come up with concepts and designs using our [computer-aided design] software, print them out and have them in an engineer’s hand the next day.”

For example, an Army technician scans part of a protective mask. As the laser passes over every millimeter of the object, the computer plots points in 3D space. On-screen the mask immediately comes into view as a three-dimensional object. Sending the file to the printer results in a solid copy you can hold in your hand within a few hours.

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One recent project involved coming up with a solution to help Soldiers carry a heavy piece of sensor equipment in the field.

“The Army Research Lab asked us to develop a holder for a heavy handheld sensor called a Mine Hound, which is used as an improvised explosive device detection sensor,” Moore said. “They wanted something that would cradle the handle so it’s putting more weight on the Soldiers’ vest and back as opposed to just their forearm.”

The team scanned the sensor and came up with a myriad of design options in short order.

Moore said the part is still in the design process. “We’re going to make 10 of them for testing,” he said. “Once we have their approval we’re going to do the rapid tooling and use injection molding to make several thousand of the holders.”

The team uses 3D printing technology to augment, test and even make molds that otherwise would add weeks or months to the process.

Future applications

In the future, Moore sees the technology becoming more commonplace.

“I see it expanding in the materials,” he said. “I see the speed increasing and the sizes of the parts increasing. There are also a lot of fascinating medical applications, which kind of overlap with what we’d like to do in the Army in the future.”

Medical personnel may use 3D laser scans on a Soldier before he or she is deployed. This would ensure all physical features are on file.

“If a Soldier comes back wounded, we’d have that data on our side where we could possibly build prosthesis that are exactly how the Soldier used to look — instead of sculpting it and scanning it,” Moore said.

“Every day we’re building parts for the customer whether it is an exploded fragment or munitions,” Moore said. “The more our customers use 3D printing, the more they’re relying on it to do their testing before they do the manufacturing. So, it’s become an every day thing.”

Army Technology Live’s David McNally has this report.



Posted in 3D Printers Applications

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