AML3D and Lightforce edge closer to commercialization of 3D printed body armor

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Metal 3D printer OEM AML3D and defense product developer Lightforce have announced an extension to the Stage 2 testing trials of their next-generation 3D printed titanium body armor prototypes.

The project was commenced in December 2019 when AML3D and Lightforce signed a Memorandum of Understanding. The success of the first phase of Stage 2 testing, which was announced back in December 2020, has now paved the way for additional testing parameter opportunities. The initial testing scope will now be expanded to cover this broader range, with both AML3D and Lightforce eventually aiming for product commercialization.

Andrew Sales, Managing Director of AML3D, said, “The global body armor market is massive and growing, so it is important that we cement a foothold in this market. It is a real credit to our team that their work on the early-stage prototypes of next-generation ‘made-to-fit’ titanium body armor has resulted in AML3D moving to the next stage of manufacturing and testing with Lightforce.”

The AML3D Arcemy system, featuring the company's WAM 3D printing technology, is being used to fabricate titanium body armor. Photo via AML3D.
The AML3D Arcemy system, featuring the company’s WAM 3D printing technology, is being used to fabricate titanium body armor. Photo via AML3D.

AML3D’s Wire Arc Manufacturing

According to AML3D, the global body armor market is expected to exceed $3.5 billion by 2028, ushered along by heightened global conflicts as well as advances in modern manufacturing technologies. In particular, the companies expect an increase in demand for customizable ‘made-to-fit’ armor products, where the torsos of soldiers can be 3D scanned to create anatomy-specific bulletproof attire.

The early titanium body armor prototypes are being 3D printed using AML3D’s patented Wire Arc Manufacturing (WAM) process, the company’s take on DED 3D printing. WAM combines electric arcs with welding wires as feedstock to fabricate large-scale and free-form parts. This makes the technology particularly well suited to the production of bespoke parts with high-performance materials such as titanium.

Beyond just the performance benefits, the use of 3D printing also allows for significantly lower emissions and less material waste than traditional manufacturing technologies, especially at low prototype-level volumes.

WAM 3D printing in action. Photo via AML3D.
WAM 3D printing in action. Photo via AML3D.

Commercializing custom 3D printed body armor

Once AML3D completes the full range of upcoming testing procedures, the body armor prototypes will undergo rigorous repeatability testing under various conditions, as well as a comprehensive assessment of their ballistic performance. Lightforce will then focus on the commercialization of the product and seek out new business opportunities to bring it to market. The manufacturing and testing of the prototypes are expected to be completed come Q3 FY22.

Sales added, “We have the in-house capability and capacity to take on the commercialization of ‘made-to-fit’ titanium body armor and are confident that the quality of our prototypes in this next round of manufacturing and testing will deliver further successful results. This latest development follows a strong year for AML3D as we move from early-stage development of our business model to a company with sustainable and material revenue growth.”

Additive manufacturing is increasingly being used for defense applications. Just this month, aerospace manufacturer Boeing made strides by flight-testing a 3D printed flight-critical component on a Chinook helicopter for the very first time. Conducted as part of a T408 engine demonstration, the flight test saw the Chinook take flight with an aluminum gearbox housing 3D printed by Boeing, the OEM behind the aircraft.

Elsewhere, Continuous Composites, a developer of composite 3D printing technology, was recently awarded a $750,000 Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract from the Department of Defense (DoD). Together with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Continuous Composites will work to 3D print multifunctional composite wing structures for attritable (low-cost, disposable) unmanned aircraft.

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Featured image shows the AML3D Arcemy system. Photo via AML3D.