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U.S. Marine Corps improving squadron self-sufficiency with 3D printing

U.S. Marines with Combat Logistic Battalion 31 (CLB), part of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), are using 3D printing to create spare parts.

The 31st MEU deploys with little notice, as the need arises. The nature of their mission means that sending replacement parts around the world is not often feasible, something that leads Sgt. Adrian Willis to say to the official U.S Marines site that “3D printing is definitely the future – it’s absolutely the direction the Marine Corps needs to be going”

Sgt. Adrian Willis, using a 3D printer. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Stormy Mendez
Sgt. Adrian Willis, using a 3D printer. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Stormy Mendez

Facing hardships with 3D printing

The Marine Corps prides itself on its self-sufficiency, making 3D printing parts during missions a logical step.

CLB 31 uses 3D printing as a source of temporary parts, assisting marines facing hardships such as mechanical parts failing. The battalion is able to bring 3D printers with them when they deploy, allowing parts to be fabricated on-demand as the need arises.

An F-35B fighter had a plastic bumper on its landing gear door wear out during an MEU patrol this Spring. Previously, the entire door assembly would have been replaced. With 3D printing the squadron simply fabricated a new bumper. The part was printed, approved for use, and flown within days, far faster than it would take for a new part to be delivered from the U.S..

In another case, an iRobot 310 Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle, used by the MEU’s ordnance disposal team, had a 3D printed lens cap installed to protect its fragile optics. The cap is still in use today.

“I am proud to be a part of a new program that could be a game-changer for the Marine Corps” said Willis.

An iRobot 310 Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle, with 3D printed lens cap. Photo via U.S. Marine Corps by Cpl. Stormy Mendez.
An iRobot 310 Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle, with 3D printed lens cap. Photo via U.S. Marine Corps by Cpl. Stormy Mendez.

Saving on time and costs

“Although our supply personnel and logisticians do an outstanding job getting us parts, being able to rapidly make our own parts is a huge advantage as it cuts down our footprint thus making us more agile in a shipboard or expeditionary environment. In this instance we were able to team with our sister unit, CLB-31, to not only rapidly manufacture a replacement but also save thousands of dollars in the process.” – said Lt. Col Richard Rusnok of the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, operators of the F-35B.

U.S. Military advancing 3D printing

The U.S. Marine Corps has been calling for greater adoption of 3D printing among its ranks. Operations Officer Captain Marc Blair, of the Marine Wing Support Squadron 372, has outlined an innovative vision of how 3D printing will be used to help service and maintain vehicles for the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, the main marine aviation unit on the U.S. west coast.

3D printed soft robots, emulating the flexibility of invertebrates like the octopus, are being developed by the University of Minnesota in collaboration with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory. Professor Michael McAlpine of UoM said “our team began by investigating new methods for emulating the location of invertebrates, which provided fundamental insights into the machineries of their soft distributed actuation circuitries that allow for high bending motions without skeletal support.”

Practical hypersonic flight vehicles may be possible with 3D printed ceramic silicon oxycarbideLast year, the U.S. Marine Corps 3D printed a drone 200 times cheaper than the production version, with the help of the Corps’ Next Generation Logistics Innovation Cell.

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Featured image shows Sgt. Adrian Willis using a 3D printer. Photo via U.S. Marine Corps, by Cpl. Stormy Mendez

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