The Combat Capabilities Development Command of the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) has awarded leading American 3D printer OEM 3D Systems a $15 million machine development contract. Working with the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS), 3D Systems is tasked with creating “the world’s largest, fastest, most precise metal 3D printer.” Following installation across the Army, the technology will then be made available to leading aerospace and defense suppliers.
“The Army is increasing readiness by strengthening its relationships and interoperability with business partners, like 3D Systems, who advance warfighter requirements at the best value to the taxpayer,” commented Dr. Joseph South, ARL’s program manager for Science of Additive Manufacturing for Next Generation Munitions. “Up until now,” he adds, “powder bed laser 3D printers have been too small, too slow, and too imprecise to produce major ground combat subsystems at scale,”
“Our goal is to tackle this issue head-on with the support of allies and partners who aid the Army in executing security cooperation activities in support of common national interests, and who help enable new capabilities for critical national security supply chains.”
Building the largest 3D printer in the world
3D Systems metal 3D printer range currently consists of seven machines each employing the company’s PBF Direct Metal Printing (DMP) technology. The largest machine in this range is the DMP Factory 350, which has a maximum build envelope capacity of 275 x 275 x 380 mm (W x D x H). The 3D printer requested by ARL is to have build envelope of 1000mm x 1000mm x 600mm capable of building parts around 3ft in length and depth and less than 2ft tall. At this scale ARL’s 3D printer exceeds the size of some of the current sector’s largest machines such as the SLM Solutions SLM 800 (500 x 280 x 850 mm, L x W x H) and GE Additive’s Beta Project A.T.L.A.S. (950mm x 810mm x 300mm, X x Y x Z).
It will be developed by 3D Systems and NCMS as part of the Advanced Manufacturing, Materials, and Processes (AMMP) Program opened in October 2018. Lisa Strama, president and CEO, NCMS, comments, “As the capstone project of the AMMP Program, [this project] will lead to critical breakthroughs for our members and partners, enhancing performance and speeding innovations to market.”
Other specifications include the ability to produce a minimum wall thickness of 100µm, and minimum layer thickness of 30µm.
The Army’s additive manufacturing plan
Under the U.S. Army Additive Manufacturing Implementation Plan, the force has been exploring many 3D printing options over the past 20 years which has, in one instance, resulted in the deployment of desktop systems to areas of conflict and the development of new options for legacy machine repair.
ARL is also working on the development of stronger materials for additive manufacturing. Until July 15 2019, AMMP will be open to submissions for the “Additive Manufacturing of Next Generation High Strength Aluminum Alloys.”
With the large scale metal 3D printer project, the military hopes to achieve more efficient design and production of durable parts, with a faster time to market/the field. It will focus on production for the Army’s key supply chains including those associated with long-range munitions, next-generation combat vehicles, helicopters, and air and missile defense capabilities. “Through this project,” comments Chuck Hull, co-founder and CTO at 3D Systems. “we’re looking forward to delivering a working manufacturing system like no other […]”
“[…] ARL has already realized the power of AM to transform its operations. We look forward to collaborating with them to scale and expand these capabilities by delivering first-to-market processes, materials, and technologies.”
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Featured image shows U.S. Army’s next gen vehicles concepts. Image via U.S. Army