Critical spare parts are being made at the frontlines of Ukraine using metal 3D printers.

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Calum Stewart and Chris Harris, along with their team at Spee3D, recently returned from Jasionka, Poland, where they provided training on 3D printing metal parts to the Ukrainian military. The training program was aimed at equipping Ukrainian soldiers with the skills to quickly fabricate critical repair parts using the seven Spee3D printers supplied to Ukraine by the U.S. Department of Defense.

The printers, called WarpSpee3D, are specifically designed to rapidly produce parts for armored platforms and military equipment systems. Priced at around $1 million each, these printers are not meant to replace traditional supply chains but to address the constant demand for critical parts, known as “parts of consequence.”

The need for these parts becomes evident when considering the impact of a broken hinge on a troop carrier or the unavailability of a specialist tool for a gun on a military vehicle. Without these parts, operations can be severely affected. That’s where Spee3D’s printers come into play, as they can fabricate these critical parts in less than a day, even in close proximity to where they are needed.

Throughout the training program, a small group of Ukrainian soldiers, including career soldiers and newly drafted engineers, learned the essentials of metallurgy and how to operate the printers. The training lasted 15 days, with the soldiers dedicating 12 hours each day to learning and practicing their newly acquired skills.

For the team at Spee3D, this training program was unlike any they had conducted before. The urgency and significance of the training became apparent, as the soldiers’ lives depended on their ability to quickly manufacture parts during critical situations. The team worked tirelessly to ensure the soldiers received comprehensive training, covering everything from engineering design theory to printer operation.

Despite the magnitude of the task, the team at Spee3D rose to the challenge, ensuring that every hour of training was maximized. The soldiers’ dedication and enthusiasm for learning were evident, as they were willing to work long hours and engage in rigorous questioning to fully grasp the concepts and techniques.

The success of this training program not only highlights the capabilities of Spee3D’s printers but also emphasizes the importance of additive manufacturing in military operations. By having the ability to produce critical parts on-demand, armies can reduce dependence on traditional supply chains and enhance their preparedness for war situations.

However, it is worth noting that Spee3D is a relatively small company. Therefore, the success of this operation was only made possible through the collaborative efforts of the entire team, including company executives and military veterans, who brought valuable expertise and experience to the training program.

As the Ukrainian military now possesses the knowledge and skills necessary to operate the Spee3D printers, they are better equipped to ensure the availability of critical parts and maintain the functionality of their military platforms, even in the face of challenging circumstances.

Overall, the training program in Poland was a resounding success, showcasing the impact that 3D printing can have on military operations. With the deployment of Spee3D printers near the frontlines, the Ukrainian military has significantly improved its capabilities in repairing and maintaining its armored platforms and equipment systems.

The use of 3D printing technology in the military is not a new concept. However, the approach that the Ukrainian army is taking with this technology is quite different. Instead of simply printing spare parts for military equipment, the Ukrainians are focusing on using 3D printing to solve problems.

According to Stewart, a representative from the Department of Defense (DOD), the soldiers in the field often come to engineers with a specific request to 3D print a part. But instead of simply fulfilling these requests, Stewart believes that a different approach is needed. The soldiers shouldn’t just be provided with a printed part, but rather they should be taught how to solve the problem themselves.

In order to achieve this, the Ukrainians will mainly be designing parts from scratch using computer aided design (CAD) software. This means that they have the opportunity to come up with even better functioning parts than the originals. This is a unique advantage of additive manufacturing.

The DOD has been working with a company called Spee3D, which specializes in metal 3D printers. These printers use a technology called cold spray additive manufacturing, which sprays metal powder onto an aluminum build plate at very high speeds. This method does not require the use of lasers or gases, making it particularly suitable for frontline environments.

The WarpSpee3D, a metal 3D printer developed by Spee3D, is capable of producing solid metal parts in a matter of hours. It is also fast and energy efficient, able to build large parts up to 1 meter in diameter or 40kg in weight. It can also repair and coat metal parts, adding additional shapes or features.

The Ukrainians have already been field testing the WarpSpee3D, and the results have been promising. The soldiers have found it relatively easy to operate, and the language barrier has been mitigated by on-screen instructions in pictures.

According to Harris, another representative from Spee3D, the introduction of these printers to the Ukrainian army will have a significant impact on their readiness status. While there will be a learning curve and an early adoption stage, Harris is confident that once the soldiers grasp the technology, it will be a game changer.

Spee3D is contracted to support these printers and the soldiers who operate them for the next few years. They will continue to train more Ukrainian soldiers to become additive manufacturing engineers on the frontlines.

Overall, the Ukrainian army’s approach to 3D printing is unique and promising. By focusing on problem-solving rather than simply printing parts, they have the potential to revolutionize their military equipment and capabilities. With the support of Spee3D and their WarpSpee3D printers, the Ukrainians are well on their way to achieving this goal.

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