The Australian Army has carried out a field test of metal 3D printer manufacturer SPEE3D’s WarpSPEE3D additive manufacturing (AM) systems.
Taking place in various locations across the Australian Northern Territories, the three day trial demonstrated the efficacy of metal 3D printed parts during field training. Throughout testing, SPEE3D’s 3D printers proved capable of being deployed within 30 minutes, and in difficult conditions, exhibiting the potential of AM for repairing damaged equipment during missions.
“The first field deployment of WarpSPEE3D was an important milestone for SPEE3D,” said Byron Kennedy, SPEE3D CEO. “While our equipment was initially designed for industrial use, this trial proved that our equipment is actually very robust and can endure harsh conditions and rough handling very well. We look forward to future exercises and continuing to learn how we best serve the Australian Army and defence industry.”
3D printing and the Australian Army
The successful tests follow a string of investments made by Australian military in 3D printing technology, dating back to 2014. Then Australian Lieutenant Jacob Choi, claimed that he would like to see the Australian Army “utilizing the full benefits of 3D printing by 2020,” and now it appears that this promise is being realised.
Fast forward to February 2019, and the Royal Australian Navy commissioned a AUD $1.5 million (USD $1 million) project, which has seen SPEE3D working with the Advanced Manufacturing Alliance (AMA) and Charles Darwin University (CDU). The two year government-backed program was effectively a pilot trial of SPEE3D’s metal 3D printing technology, with the aim of streamlining patrol vessel maintenance.
A year later in February 2020, Melissa Price, Australian Minister for Defence Industry, announced that SPEE3D had landed another AUD $1.5 million project. The 12 month program began with twenty soldiers receiving training in advanced additive manufacturing technology at CDU. Now that the first phase of the trial has been deemed a success by those involved, the soldiers have attempted to utilize their newfound knowledge, to operate a SPEE3D printer in the harsh environments of Australia’s Northern Territories.
The Australian Army’s successful field test
The servicemen installed a WARPSPEE3D metal 3D printer at the Australian Army’s Robertson Barracks located in Darwin, in early June. Just over a week later, soldiers from the 1st Combat Service Support Battalion, packed up and carried the printer by truck, out into the bush. The three-day trial at the Mount Bundey field training area, 120km south-east of Darwin, involved manoeuvring the system to several bush locations and unloading it onto different terrains. Not only did the 3D printer prove capable of being transported and unloaded under difficult conditions, but it was reportedly operational within 30 minutes.
SPEE3D’s large-format system uses the company’s patented Cold Spray Technology to enable faster and more cost-effective metal part production than conventional manufacturing methods. Producing functional components within minutes rather than the days or weeks required by traditional techniques, the machine is capable of producing large metal parts weighing up to 40kg, at a speed of 100 grams per minute. By harnessing the power of kinetic energy, the WARPSPEE3D machine enables metal 3D printing where space is at a premium, such as during field combat training.
Throughout the project, the SPEE3D 3D printer enabled easier access and an increased availability of unique parts to the Australian Army, compared to that provided by its regular supply chain. In addition, the mobility demonstrated by the system, allowed soldiers to print components on the move, rather than carrying spare parts during exercises. According to Lieutenant Colonel Wright, the system’s portability could also enable the Australian military to better repair damaged equipment during combat missions.
“This phase has seen the 3D printing capability deployed to the field, alongside vital military equipment, contributing to the mission during this training cycle,” he said. “The ability to print repair parts in an environment like this has the potential to significantly reduce our footprint and repair damaged equipment – on the spot – to get us back to our main priority,” said Wright.
For Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner, the project showed how the region is becoming a spearhead for innovative technology, and cementing its place as a manufacturing hub of the future. “This is a great story of a Territory company making it big. Innovation such as the WarpSPEE3D puts the Northern Territory on the map, and positions us as a jobs powerhouse for advanced manufacturing in Australia,” he said.
Additive applications in the global military operations
3D printing is being deployed in a growing number of applications in defence sectors around the world. The US Army has been a particular advocate of AM, utilizing the technology to produce parts ranging from black hawk helicopter components to customized ear plugs for soldiers.
The French Army has also integrated 3D printing into their operations through a deal with French industrial 3D printer provider Prodway. Two of the company’s ProMaker P1000 3D printers have been installed by the French military, to help validate the advantages of 3D printing for producing spare parts in ‘realistic’ conditions.
The British Army meanwhile, has used a desktop 3D printer to provide support to a United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Using a Lulzbot TAZ 6 3D printer, the army personnel based there produced 3D printed parts which accelerated the building of a hospital.
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Featured image shows the SPEE3D printer used by the Australian Army during the three day field test. Picture via SPEE3D.