Military MLV Design Challenge Steers Toward 3D Printing
Juliver Ramirez posted on March 26, 2018 |
Launch Forth contest to design the next generation modular vehicle with a focus on 3D printing.

Launch Forth—an online product design community based on co-creation, and a facet of Local Motors—returns with another design competition, the MLV: Refined Challenge. Launch Forth will join forces with FATHOM, a 3D printing studio specializing in manufacturing prototypes, to call on designers and engineers to take their Modular Logistics Vehicle (MLV) designs even further, this time with an emphasis on involving 3D printing in their materials and manufacturing.

Launch Forth shines the spotlight on SLOG, the winner of its previous design challenge. The goal was to design a new modular vehicle system capable of handling a variety of logistical missions. (Image courtesy of Launch Forth.)
Launch Forth shines the spotlight on SLOG, the winner of its previous design challenge. The goal was to design a new modular vehicle system capable of handling a variety of logistical missions. (Image courtesy of Launch Forth.)

The Challenge—Round One

Earlier this year, the first MLV Design Challenge prompted designers to produce a concept for a new type of light vehicle with modular elements. The vehicle had to adhere to these five design principles, as Launch Forth detailed:

-       “Modular: Interoperability is all that matters .

-       Breakable/hackable: Design for the need, but anticipate the unexpected.

-       Understandable: Intuitive for users of all types to use, modify and share functional builds.

-       Function over form: Fewer format features maximizing usability over aesthetics.

-       High capacity: Room to hold more—more people, more equipment, more functions.”

Designs had to be able to undergo at least two of the four different use cases: personnel movement, administration support, mechanical repair and/or construction support. As well, designers were encouraged to submit their CAD drawings with vehicle assemblies, breakdowns and mechanical specifications for more favorable judging.

Three weeks ago, Launch Forth announced its winner. The first place award went to SLOG–a six-wheeled and modular electric vehicle concept by Vasilatos Ianis. The SLOG was named after the verb “to slog,” meaning “to work hard.”

SLOG, by Vasilatos Ianis, demonstrates its function and interoperability, configuring to the needs of different jobs. In the two rear multipurpose sections, users can swap out seats to make room for construction cargo, satellite dishes, water tanks, repair units, etc. (Image courtesy of Launch Forth.)
SLOG, by Vasilatos Ianis, demonstrates its function and interoperability, configuring to the needs of different jobs. In the two rear multipurpose sections, users can swap out seats to make room for construction cargo, satellite dishes, water tanks, repair units, etc. (Image courtesy of Launch Forth.)

To fully appreciate the winning design, it is important to be clear about the origin and purpose of an MLV as well as whom exactly it would serve in practice.

The Origin of the MLV

Jay Rogers previously served as an infantry company commander for the U.S. Marine Corps. However, he now commands a different set of skilled persons as the CEO and cofounder of Local Motors, a technology company that designs, builds and sells vehicles and other innovative products. It seems inevitable that this blending of vehicle design and military life would converge in his career.

Launch Forth drew inspiration for its first challenge from the Marine Corps Twentynine Palms base in California. Here, Launch Forth had learned of “a team of Marines [that had] turned a fleet of standard, off-the-shelf utility vehicles into highly customized vehicles that can now serve a wide range of diverse tasks. They employed ingenuity to transform stock vehicles into a multitude of use cases.”

Launch Forth then posed the same task to its online community of engineers, designers and technologists.

As coined by Launch Forth, the MLV is a U.S. Marine Corps vehicle designed for “improved functionality and experience while conducting operations. This new vehicle will incorporate modular adjustments to improve the Marine experience and their corresponding operations. New modules could be designed and customized on base as new needs and use cases become discovered.” However, despite its many uses, the MLV is not a combat vehicle.

SLOG, among other entries, fulfilled all these requirements. But now the question is whether or not these designs can be “refined.”

The Challenge—Round Two

For this new challenge, Launch Forth and FATHOM encourage designers to expand and improve their concepts from the previous MLV design challenge. Or, if they wish, designers could also begin a new design, taking notes and inspiration from the previous winners.

In many ways, this challenge shares similarities with the first challenge. Designers must submit their concepts in CAD format (for example, Siemens Solid Edge files), show module designs for the four use cases and observe the same five design principles.

However, the main difference with this challenge is the added sixth principle­: future-forward. With this, Launch Forth calls for designers to also incorporate additive manufacturing methods and materials into their proposed concepts. At least one main element of the vehicle must be created by additive methods with a justified reason. For example, the 3D-printed part requires replacement frequently, or the 3D-printed part is crucial to the Marines’ mission.

As the other new addition to the competition, FATHOM will be collaborating with Launch Forth as its build partner. Chris Blower, a mechanical engineer from FATHOM, will act as a technical advisor to participants.

“We will be guiding Launch Forth and its community throughout the challenge and will leverage our team’s extensive knowledge on additive, subtractive and hybridized manufacturing methods to fabricate an epic vehicle that will be reliable, effective and buildable,” Blower said in a statement.

Along with the bigger challenge come the higher stakes. The company will award $20,000 to the first place winner, $10,000 to second place, $5,000 to third place and $1,000 each to three judge’s favorites.

Launch Forth is accepting submissions from March 5 to April 9.

Round Three? What Does This Design Challenge Mean for Engineers in 3D Printing?

The introduction of a logistics military vehicle manufactured with 3D printing at its focus could introduce many more opportunities for Marines and engineers alike.

The most exciting thing about the MLV design competition is that it could do more than just present beautifully rendered concepts. In fact, this challenge could potentially introduce new vehicles for the Marines.

With the help of FATHOM, participants will formulate feasible plans for 3D-printed and manufactured MLVs. Potentially, by the end of it all, Launch Forth and FATHOM may discover a whole array of viable concepts for a ground military vehicle that can be mass produced with the help of 3D printing. MLVs could become the economically affordable and efficiently made go-to logistics vehicle for the U.S. Marine Corps.

Despite sharing a similar segmented form to the Logistics Vehicle System (LVS) that the U.S. Marine Corps currently uses, the SLOG MLV design would still hold a number of advantages. Like the LVS, the MLV would be able to swap out rear compartments, but would have more versatility in its uses through its various modules. Modules, themselves, would also be very flexible in adapting and optimizing its form in real time, like a chameleon matching its colors to the environment. Moreover, MLVs would be more compact in size yet be able to transport more people.

Adaptability is the key element to the MLV. Like the judges of the competition, Marines favor adaptability in design due to the unpredictability of real-life situations on base.

If you have engineering skills that can be applied to a project’s concept and design, Launch Forth encourages collaborating and working in teams through the team discussion thread. Submit your MLV concept to the Launch Forth website. The deadline to submit design entries is April 9.

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