The Pentagon views 3D printing as a “game changer” across various areas, from parts to hypersonics.

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The military is experiencing a revolutionary transformation with the growth of additive manufacturing. This emerging technology, also known as 3D printing, has the potential to revolutionize the way the military operates. Keith DeVries, deputy director of the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Manufacturing Technology Program, explained in a recent Defense News webcast just how significant additive manufacturing is becoming.

Additive manufacturing has come a long way in the last few years, opening up new possibilities for creating weapons and components. One of the biggest advantages of additive manufacturing is its ability to speed up the prototyping process. With traditional manufacturing, designing new systems can be a lengthy and time-consuming process. However, additive manufacturing allows programs to iterate and make changes quickly, resulting in faster development of new technologies.

But the benefits don’t stop there. Additive manufacturing has also been useful in creating spare parts for aircraft and other systems. In the past, when a component broke, the military had to wait for a replacement part to go through a slow supply chain. With 3D printers, however, the military can create “one-off” spare parts almost overnight, reducing downtime and increasing efficiency.

In fact, the military has been able to repair aircraft damaged by bird strikes in just a matter of days using additive manufacturing. This rapid repair capability is incredibly valuable, as it allows the military to keep its assets operational and ready for action.

Additive manufacturing is not limited to just spare parts, though. 3D printers can also quickly create new tools, which traditionally take a long time to arrive when made in traditional ways. Additionally, the scale of objects that can be 3D printed is increasing, to the point where entire structures, like houses or hangars, can be built using additive manufacturing. This versatility makes additive manufacturing a game changer for the military.

The military has taken notice of these advancements and is actively looking for ways to apply them. For example, being able to print a runway or a hangar overnight can be incredibly beneficial in certain situations. Additive manufacturing has come a long way since its early days, where it could only create objects from fragile polymers. Today, high-entropy metals can be used, creating objects that are strong and withstand wear and tear.

Hypersonic weapons are a notable example of a program that can benefit from additive manufacturing. Complex chambers required for scramjet propulsion systems, often central to hypersonics, can be difficult to manufacture using traditional methods. However, 3D printing allows for these components to be made from high-temperature metals, eliminating the need for complex welds or brazing joints. This simplifies the manufacturing process and allows for more efficient production of hypersonic weapons.

Although additive manufacturing shows great promise, DeVries emphasized that traditional manufacturing techniques still have their place. Casting and forging, for instance, are still valuable methods in certain situations. It is crucial to use additive manufacturing intentionally and selectively, focusing on where it adds the most value.

As additive manufacturing technology continues to improve and evolve, it will undoubtedly play an increasingly crucial role in the military’s operations. The ability to rapidly prototype, create spare parts, and manufacture complex components is transforming how the military operates and ensuring readiness in the face of evolving threats.

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