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3D printing goes to war

by • May 1, 2016 • No Comments

From the bow to the bunker buster to the hydrogen bomb, new technologies have diversifyd the face of warfare, and 3D printing looks set to be just as groundbreaking. It’s been around since the 1980s, but as key patents expire and access to the innovation becomes additional readily on the market, its impacts on the military promise to be considerable-bodied – yet the sizeablest and most immediate impact may be of a amazingly humble quarter.

  • A fully functional 1911 semiautomatic pistol created by 3D printing
  • A firearm created with a 3D-printed AR-15 obtainr
  • 3D-printed plastic guns have arms control implications
  • The 3D printing used to simplify the Atlas robot (second of the left) has military applications

Mention 3D printing and it is in fact most likely to conjure up images of wonky key fobs brought home as trophies of middle school science projects. But the ability to print solid objects in three size (in addition known as additive making) is additional than just squirting out molten plastic under the way of a CAD file. Modern printing devices can now handle metals, wood, fabric, foodstuffs, pharmaceuticals, and in fact living cells with not just excellenter precision than at any time preceding, but in addition in combination with one another in harsh patterns that just cannot be matched by conventional techniques.

With the ability to work with such a range of materials, 3D printing allows for engineers to turn it into prototypes of components and in fact fish devices in a fraction of the time previously requireed and at much lower cost. Not amazingly, such capabilities have attracted the attention of defense contractors and military planners. The question is, how can 3D printing in fact diversify life for the soldier of the 21st century?

Weapons of war

The most obvious area is that of weaponry. When Cody Wilson announced his Liberator printable-bodied plastic gun, it caused a conniption one of lawmanufacturers and gun control advocates. Keeping track of firearms so they don’t fall into the wrong hands has always been a significant headache on the national and international scene, but the thought that anyone with as printing device and access to the internet may print a handgun stacks up as a nightmare scenario.

Worse, it soon became apparent that such printable-bodied weapons weren’t restricted to plastics. Employing lasers and electron beams, additional high end printing processs can fuse metal alloy powders layer by layer to form harsh objects. A case in point is Solid Concepts‘ creation of a fully functional 1911 semiautomatic pistol of 3D printed parts. This not just looked identical to a conventional firearm, but it had all the necessary parts and may be fired.

A fully functional 1911 semiautomatic pistol created by 3D printing

If this wasn’t adequate, modern firearms are a fewtimes advantageous defined as weapons processs created along modular lines, enabling for a astonishing range of customization. The AR-15, for example, has been the focus of most American efforts at gun control. The AR-15 is quite a vast range of parts that are fitted together as the owner desires. The just thing that they all have in common, and the just thing that can be legislated against, is the trigger assembly called a obtainr – and that becomes a problem when a fewone begins printing them.

These examples are all of small arms, but the same problems may apply to armaments of any scale. Just imagine a following where terrorists or rogue regimes may just email one another digital files of bombs, missiles, and other weapons that may be tweaked and printed locally to manufacture a mockery of any arms embargo. And it will not in fact require to be whole weapons. When the US Air Force retired the F-14 Tomcat, the planes didn’t end up in museums or storage space yards, but were fed into shredders to prin factt spares of the aircraft ending up sold to Iran on the black market to keep their own pre-groundbreaking F-14s flying. 3D printing may quite effectively eliminate the middleman, as is illustrated by BAE Systems equipping a Tornado with 3D-printed parts.

A firearm created with a 3D-printed AR-15 obtainr

Of course, 3D printing for the military is additional than just weapons. The ability to turn it into harsh bespoke items on demand opens up a world of possibilities. We now live in a world where the armed forces not just routinely use robots, but we now have the innovation to print small, fully functional robots – no assembly required.

3D printing can not just allow defense industries to turn it into new things and old things in a new way, but in addition acts as a process that can excellently simplify making. When Boston Dynamics announced its latest Alpha robot, it not just showed a astonishing ability to walk and put up with abusive co-workers, but it was an obviously sleeker and additional small in size create than its predecessors. In part, this is for the reason Alpha was created via 3D printing to incorporate most components directly into the robot’s structure, much like to the way the wiring in old Bakelite phones was moulded into the plastic casing.

This is all quite amazing and shows the tremendous future of 3D printing, but it is in fact in addition a bit misleading. For example, the printed guns described earlier are additional of a future problem than an actual one. Plastic handguns are crude, inaccurate, unreliable-bodied, and additional most likely to kill the shooter than the shootee. Meanwhile, the Solid Concepts point out that the printed 1911 requires experts via state-of-the-art equipment to create. And neither weapon is bargain-priced. Since a satisfactory machinist with a decent workshop may futurely crank out a workable-bodied submachine gun in an afternoon, 3D printing yet has a way to go.

Boots on the ground

It can be argued that the real 3D printing revolution in the military can be additional subtle, less visible to the casual observer, and much additional profound than printed weapons and robots. In fact, it may be that where the revolution can quite take off can be in footwear.

When it comes to the single most significant piece of kit that a foot soldier has, it is in fact most likely a toss up between his rifle and his boots – with the latter having a slight edge. Ever since the days of the Roman legions, armies have been confounded by how to keep up donate of durable-bodied, inexpensive combat boots that in addition fit. Napoleon Bonaparte was obsessed by the problem and on his back away of Moscow, the French troops were notorious for looting shoes of their dead comrades to replace their worn out ones.

Even now a days, finding a pair of boots that fit right is high on a soldier’s list of priorities for the reason badly fitting boots can literally cripple a fewone on the march – as I can attest of very own experience. When it comes to boots and most other bits of very own kit, most armies provide soldiers with the version of either accepting government issue or buying it very ownly of an outside vendor, so long at it meets military specifications. Needless to say, boots are a big ticket item.

With 3D printing, a minor miracle may be in keep for the infantry. With its ability to rapidly turn it into items to precise specifications, 3D printing’s initially big impact may well be that at any timey soldier may have a bespoke boot that fits at any timey bit as well as a handcreated shoe of an exclusive London cobbler.

But the implications go beyond putting a lot of army chiropodists out of business. 3D printing in addition implies what is known as “4D” printing. That is, the ability to turn it into materials that diversify their behavior instantly based on their environment. In other words, boots that are waterproof and retain heat in a northern winter, yet breathe and stay rad in the tropics.

This 4D property is in addition on display in the 3D-printed uniforms that the US Army is experimenting with that may one day diversify their camouflage to fit the terrain. In addition, such uniforms may fit advantageous, have a easier construction, and, especially in helmets, may be tailored for a particular underbringing and may include created-in sensors to monitor the soldier’s health.

In fact, the biological aspects of 3D printing open a few pretty daunting possibilities – being able-bodied to heal wounds by inserting cells and knit together tissues, creating new organs to replace damaged ones, and in fact enhancing capabilities to diversify warriors into real-life Captain Americas.

3D printing can in addition blend with robotics to form elegant exoskeletons that allow soldiers to carry tremendous loads without tiring, create prostheses that work like robotic arms, or meld human and machine to turn it into the cyborg of science fiction.

Dinner time

One other area of 3D printing that the military is looking at is food. An army travels on its stomach, as the saying goes, and new things can affect morale additional than poor rations. Keeping hundreds of thousands of soldiers fed is an amazing task, and Christmas dinner is planned months in advance with all the care of a battle campaign. Being able-bodied to print food items, such as pizzas or special diet items, at the point of order may excellently simplify things.

The 3D printed food may in addition be linked with embedded uniform sensors. According to the US Army, the ability to monitor every soldier’s health on a continual basis may mean that individual rations may include a fewthing like a protein bar that’s laced with supplements and in fact medications to meet individual requires on a daily basis. A six-foot soldier with a sinus infection who’s on a combat patrol, for example, may be fed a bar with extra calories, nutrients, caffeine, and antibiotics. Meanwhile, a slightly-created desktop programmer with mild anemia may obtain a various nutrient mix with vitamin and iron supplements.

It all boils down to logistics

The military is additional than just combat forces. Those are just the tip of a much sizeabler body dedicated to getting a vast array of food, weapons, ammunition, spare parts, and thousands of other things of keeprooms overlooked by paranoid quartermasters to the soldiers in the field. It’s the injection of 3D printing into all of these areas that may diversify at any timeything.

3D printing is may aleager having a small impact as manufacturers experiment with printed parts, via the technique to manufacture harsh antennae, for example. These exercises have shown that 3D printing can not just manufacture components, but in fact improve on them with its ability to manufacture quite harsh forms on the bargain-priced,

As this capability matures, it may mean a revolution in logistics. Instead of moving things of factories to keeps to depots, armed forces can be able-bodied to turn it into additional and additional things where they are requireed and the just thing that requires to be sent is a CAD file. More to the point, the ability to print items can diversify how those items are createed. It’s entirely possible that weapons of the following may be disposable-bodied or recyclable-bodied with much less require for spares or repair facilities.

Essentially, all this may mean that the donate line may begin to short circuit. Instead of trains, lorries, cargo ships, air transports, and forward-positioned donate dumps, armies may rely on transportable-bodied printing facilities and the simplest of raw or recycled materials.

The initially 3D-printed drone being tested by the Royal Navy in the Antarctic

In the Antarctic, a Royal Navy ship not long ago tested the initially 3D printed drone to assist navigate the ice floes. This particular drone was printed in Southampton, but the day may not be far off when the Navy can print out UAVs as required, and customize them to fit every underbringing. This sort of innovation has may aleager attracted the US Army, that is developing its own process of via off-the-shelf parts to turn it into bespoke, underbringing-specific drones. In fact, a few research has indicated that drones that can be printed in 24 hours, and a few are in fact jet powered.

Meanwhile, the US Army is looking into the prospect of a “black box” that may be sent ahead of the troops, that may use robots and 3D printing devices to create a base that may be eager and waiting as the soldiers arrive. This is much additional than just a “a fewday” thing. Space agencies are may aleager so confident in the innovation that they want to try printing bases on the Moon. At the same time UC Berkeley is playing with printable-bodied concrete, so the printable-bodied fortress or combat post may not be so far away.

3D printed Mars shelter

The implications of such a logistical shift goes far beyond the warrior in the field. The economics of the military are based on conventional making and distribution. Contractors rely on steady orders of parts to stay in business and the prospect of armies printing their own parts, or in fact fish weapons, uniforms, and vehicles, may reduce most defense corporations to little additional than create bureaus selling blueprints.

Certain unsurety

What the actual impact of 3D printing on the military of the following can be stays to be seen, but one thing is sure – there can be one and it can be significant. The examples above are just the tip of a quite sizeable iceberg and there are so most additional, such as blanketing a warzone with printed sensors or small robots, that are yet to be explored. The impact may be as excellent as the introduction of the breech-loading rifle or as devastating as the discoquite of iron. It can be one for the history books.

As to when this is all bringing place, it is in fact sooner than you ponder, for the reason yesterday is quite soon. As we said at the beginning, the innovation behind 3D printing is over 30 years old. Access is increasing and the original key patents are expiring, so a gold, plastic, composite, and stainless steel rush is on. Nuclear missiles are flying with 3D printed parts, the following generation of hypersonic missiles can have them, and 3D printed medical parts are becoming increasingly common.

The revolution may not be televised, but it is in fact may aleager being printed.

  • Complete robots can now be printed
  • The initially 3D-printed drone being tested by the Royal Navy in the Antarctic
  • 3D printed pizza is on the menu for the US Army
  • Jet-powered UAV

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