How 3D printing is shaping the defense industry

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The first 3D printed desk in Dubai took 17 days to print and was installed on site in just two days. This was obviously faster than the time it usually takes to build free-standing structures using traditional construction methods. The 3D printing technique has reduced construction and labor costs by 50% compared to conventional buildings of similar size. These savings translate into increased productivity, higher economic returns and increased durability.

Defense manufacturers have also been quick to adopt 3D printing. While the hardware has been around for years, the evolution of technology has driven its development from concept to reality in many industries in the UAE.

Commonly referred to as additive manufacturing in the defense industry, 3D printing creates an object from a digital design by layering thin layers of a particular substance into a precise shape. Each layer can be very complex, which means 3D printers can create sections designed to move, such as hinges and wheels, as part of the same object. Technology limitations, such as material restrictions, are also diminishing.

This has prompted several industries to adopt additive manufacturing for day-to-day operations, including, for example, automotive – the manufacture of hybrid cars, and healthcare – the replacement of broken limbs and tissues in the human body. Today, 3D printers are also used to manufacture aerospace components – to print parts for a prototype of the satellite named MBZ-Sat – and achieve greater precision and finer resolution at higher speeds and at lower cost. .

It has the potential to change the way we design a product

Considering that less than a decade ago a 3D printer could only produce the most rudimentary objects, it’s reason to be optimistic about what additive manufacturing will mean for the future of the manufacturing industry. defense.

Traditional manufacturing methods include CNC machining or a high-precision computer-aided manufacturing process. Unlike 3D printing, CNC machining is a form of subtractive manufacturing, where solid pieces of raw material are cut into a desired shape and size using a controlled material removal process. As the name suggests, the subtractive process begins with a block of material, and that material is cut through until the design is complete. In the case of 3D printing, you start from scratch and build on the object using only the amount of material needed, resulting in substantial cost savings.

A CNC machine at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York, April 28, 2021. AP

In the years to come, 3D printing will be fully integrated into traditional manufacturing and will be a common part of most assembly lines. Faster, more robust 3D printers that create consistently high-quality output will enable large-scale production comparable to traditional techniques. The advantages of 3D printing over other manufacturing technologies are vast and are driving profound changes in the way products are designed and developed.

For equipment manufacturers, 3D printing offers a low-cost option for producing prototypes of complex components to ensure they fit into the design before CNC machining. The ability to create prototypes without tooling also allows companies to quickly test multiple configurations to determine customer preferences, reducing product risk and the time it takes to bring the finished product to market.

The first prototype is rarely what the product design process ends at. Most products go through a thorough process of testing and review before designs are finalized. Given these constraints, 3D printing is the most effective way to speed up this process. The stages of testing, modifying, and refining a design could otherwise take weeks or even months with a more traditional prototyping model. Now this can be reduced to a few days.

while you are here

Thus, 3D printing is at the heart of our on-demand and highly personalized economy, changing our approach to design, inventory and logistics. In a combat zone with no existing parts inventory, spare parts can be manufactured on the spot in near real time. Manufacturers can deliver weapon systems faster while improving design.

Fleets of drones or unmanned aerial vehicles can expand their range and payload capabilities while their obsolete parts are redesigned, printed and returned to battle in days or even hours. But think bigger: 3D printers will also add versatility in other ways. They will be able to print an object containing several materials – including metal, ceramics, concrete and plastics, on the same machine, even – opening the way to a much wider field of use.

There are several companies that are focused on using 3D printing as their sole production method. It is difficult to predict the magnitude of the impact of 3D printing in the long term. Simply put, it’s a technology that has the potential to change the way we design a product. Clearly, additive manufacturing has the potential to revolutionize not just defense, but all industries.

Posted: February 18, 2022, 9:00 AM

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