How could 3D printing bounce back post-Covid-19? Software specialist Senvol is working with the US Armed Forces to develop new aerospace and defense opportunities.

The last few years have seen a significant boost in US Armed Forces funding into 3D printing technology provided by other US companies and institutions. For example, in March 2021, Clemson University in the US received US$11 million funding from the US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) to develop new ways to 3D print metal and composite components for ground vehicles, air platforms and munitions.

These parts include large and complex geometry components with embedded multi-functionalities, such as ground and air vehicle structures with power transmission, energy storage, sensing and self-monitoring functions. According to Srikanth Pilla, principal investigator on the project within the College of Engineering, the researchers also plan to develop a database of raw materials, including metals, plastics and composite materials, that could then be used to train artificial intelligence and create digital models of potential feedstock materials.

In February 2021, 3D Systems was selected by the US Army to use AM to help improve heat exchanger parts. The project involves developing a bespoke version of 3D Systems’ DMP Factory 500 3D printer with extra coaxial process monitoring and a high contrast single-lens reflex (SLR) camera within the build chamber. Plans are also to improve technology for process modeling and defect prediction, process monitoring and defect detection, topology optimization, and cyber-physical security.

Two years before, in July 2019, 3D Systems and the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS) were awarded a US$15 million contract by the Combat Capabilities Development Command Army Research Laboratory (ARL) to create the ‘world’s largest, fastest, and most precise metal 3D printer’. Plans were for the machine to be used for long-range munitions, combat vehicles, helicopters, and air and missile defense applications, the company said.

The US Army already used AM to refurbish worn parts and create custom tools and wanted to develop large-scale systems for installation in its depots and labs. The printer’s build envelope is 1000 mm × 1000 mm × 600 mm, with ability to build minimum wall thickness of 100 µm and layer thickness of 30 µm.

Meanwhile, in December 2019, US 3D printing institute America Makes, along with the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM), inaugurated a program aimed at adding AM technology to the existing US Army supply chain. According to the institutes, the AMNOW project could help increase the Army’s readiness and improve the on-demand production of materials.

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