U.S Army explores 3D printing on the frontline

The U.S Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) has revealed its use of 3D printing to create crucial functional parts.

At ARDEC, engineers are researching the possibility of deploying a 3D printing laboratory onto the frontline to fabricate essential parts.

The Rapid Fabrication (R-FAB) system would enable soldiers to manufacture spare parts or tools to help in their missions.

The PackBot with 3D printed parts shown in color. Photo by Erin Usawicz for U.S Army.
The PackBot with 3D printed parts shown in color. Photo by Erin Usawicz for U.S Army.


ARDEC has showcased its 3D printing capability by  fabricating a number of functional parts for a PackBot. The PackBot is an established robot system developed by iRobot and used extensively by the U.S Military.

With the R-FAB, ARDEC has demonstrated the ability to repair the machine with 3D printed parts rather than depending on the OEM. The 3D printed parts are shown as replacements but have also saved 6 pounds in weight (2.7kg).

3D printing can also be implemented to create mission-ready devices as the U.S Marines showed recently with the 3D printed Nibbler drone.

"The Nibbler drone is flown by U.S. Marines and civilian contractors with II Marine Expeditionary Force (II MEF) inside of the 2nd Maintenance Battalion warehouse on Camp Lejeune, N.C., May 18, 2017." U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Taylor N. Cooper
The Nibbler drone in flight. Photo by Lance Cpl. Taylor N. Cooper

Why is the U.S Army 3D printing?

According to Capt. Jeremy Pinson, Additive Manufacturing Lead for U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command,

“The number one priority of our Army is readiness,”

The R-FAB system, for Capt. Pinson, “allows Soldiers and leaders to increase their readiness by making either authorized replacement parts or user-designed “readiness replacement parts.” The European Defence Agency has similarly explored the possibilities of 3D printing on the frontline by test printing aboard a carrier aircraft.

The U.S Army’s R-FAB ‘kits’ will contain all the necessary tools to fabricate, including software, tools and design files.

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Featured image shows a PackBot deployed on the frontline in Djibouti. Photo via Sgt. Jennifer Pirante.