3D Printing Mobile Labs: A New Combat Strategy for the U.S. Military
The U.S. military is embracing 3D printing in a novel way: they have developed mobile labs that can prototype and manufacture replacement parts or innovative equipment in combat.
The service’s Rapid Equipping Force, known as the REF, took a standard 20-foot shipping container and packed it with high-tech, prototyping machines, lab gear and manufacturing tools to create the Expeditionary Lab — Mobile.
Soldiers no longer have to wait to bring ideas back to scientists and engineers back in the states. The REF has brought the experts to the soldiers in combat.
The first mobile 3D printing labs were deployed to Afghanistan this summer. Each lab costs $2.8 million.
Col. Pete Newell, commander of the Army’s REF, explained the motivation. “The soldiers out there, they know how to do stuff; they know how to fix stuff and they know what they need to be able to do, but what they don’t have is the technical expertise in many cases to do it themselves.”
The extreme heat in Afghanistan quickly eroded the eight-hour battery life of these devices down to 45 minutes, a problem that loaded down dismounted soldiers with the weight of extra batteries for multi-day missions.
Engineers created a special adaptor and power cable for a standard military-issue BA5590 battery, which now powers the Minehound for up to nine hours. The fix also allowed soldiers to take the battery off the device and wear it on their body for better weight distribution and reduced arm fatigue, Newell said.
Expect to see a growth in 3D printing mobile labs – not just for combat scenarios but also for handling natural disasters and other peace-time missions.
Watch the video below for more details.