3D Printing Moving to the Front Lines?

Back in August, we reported about the US Army deploying several 3D printing labs across Afghanistan.  On the heels of that announcement, the US military has said that it will be developing its own 3D printers for possible use on the frontlines of the future.

Headed by the Future Warfare Center Innovative Ventures Office, the aim of the project is to create “smaller and cheaper 3-D printers than those currently available.”

D. Shannon Berry, operations research analyst with the Innovation Ventures Office, described the benefits of the project, “The ability to replicate parts quickly and cheaply is a huge benefit to the warfighter… Instead of needing a massive manufacturing logistics chain, a device that generates replacement parts is now small and light enough to be easily carried in a backpack or on a truck.”

At the moment, the Army’s own 3D printing technology is being tested and used at the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command. Berry continues, “We do a lot of work with space-borne sensors, and we use small airborne platforms as an inexpensive stand-in when we’re experimenting… Parts for these systems break frequently, and many of them are produced overseas, so there’s a long lead time for replacement parts. The concept was that a 3D printer could replicate those parts with less overhead in terms of time and money.”

Now, I can understand the idea behind making a portable 3D printer, but isn’t stealth a part of combat?  The last time I was near 3D printer it was pretty loud, the print head growling as it paced across the platter.  I’m not so sure how much one can be quieted. In addition, I have questions as to how soldiers will download models of the parts that they might need to print when in jam. As matter of fact, I have a lot of questions about the idea of soldiers carrying 3D printers into battle.

I don’t mean to sound so skeptical. I know there are far more ludicrous ideas that I find no fault with at all. I’m just skeptical.

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