While debates about the ethics of 3D printed weapons are sure to grow louder in years to come, one cannot deny the impact that 3D printing is having on military applications. We’ve already seen the use of militarised drones and the use of 3D printers to generate parts in the field. As these technologies continue to evolve, countless new military applications of 3D printing are emerging.
Military barracks and bunkers, straight from a 3D printer
3D printing has been used for numerous architectural applications, including a fully functioning bridge in Holland and for a hotel suite in the Philippines. Given the technology’s ability to create bespoke designs in a fast period of time, it’s no wonder that the military has seen value in 3D printing.
Using a gigantic 3D printer called Automated Construction of Expeditionary Structures (ACES), a full-sized military barracks can now be erected in less than 24 hours, housing 20 soldiers! The machine is the size of a large garden shed and additively constructs architecture using concrete. Currently, the methodology is being tested to ensure that the structures are able to withstand turbulent weather conditions. Eventually, the objective will be to additively construct buildings using dirt and materials found on-site during military operations.
Testing is currently taking place in a bunker in Burnet, Texas, for a hypersonic weapon that utilises a partially 3D printed warhead. In case you’re curious, the term hypersonic refers to a speed even faster than Mach 5 (5X the speed of sound).
Amazingly, the duration between idea and testing was only 60 days. This is significantly shorter than if the warhead was constructed using conventional subtractive manufacturing methods. Also, because the parts were additively constructed, far less material was wasted, dramatically cutting the cost. Given that the Defense Department has increased its budget for hypersonic weapons in recent years, fast prototyping is now essential. We are likely to continue to see 3D printing play a major role in weapon development in the future.
While typically associated with skiing holidaymakers rather than military professionals, snowshoes are in fact vital to military operations taking place on mountainous terrain. In cold temperatures where soldiers must traverse snowy mountains, it’s critical that snowshoes are repaired immediately if the clip on their shoe breaks (this would prevent the soldier from moving quickly).
In this instance, carrying a 3D printed snowshoe clip could potentially save the soldier’s life. A team of specialists at Marine Corps Systems Command (MCSC) designed and printed a batch of these clips within 3 days of receiving the request. For jobs like these, sharing the designs is crucial. Marines actually collaborate using the Marine Maker website so that quick-fix solutions can be leveraged anywhere, at any time.