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Life Cycle Logistics

Ultra Strong 3D Printed Parts and Even... 4D Printing?

Ultra Strong 3D Printed Parts and Even... 4D Printing?

Bill Kobren
Savvy life cycle logisticians and product support managers recognize the technological sea change taking place around us, including the transformative impacts of additive manufacturing on DoD supply chains.

From a capability standpoint, we should be just as intrigued by how fast the technology is evolving. Several recent examples include the potential outcomes that could be derived from initaitives such as NASA’s recent 3D-Printed Habitat Centennial Challenge, and more recently, information from a March 12, 2019 Defense Systems Information Analysis Center (DSIAC) article entitled “U.S. Army Adapts Military-Grade Steel Alloy for 3D Printing Ultra-Strong Parts” in which new AM materials demonstrated 50% more strength than commercially available materials.

According to the article “Researchers from the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory have adapted a specialized steel alloy for Powder Bed Fusion 3D printing. The new material, along with specific process parameters, can produce parts that are roughly 50% stronger than commercially available materials. Within a military context, additive manufacturing has the potential to radically change logistics, offering a way to produce replacement parts and products on the fly. Though the technology is already being used in the field, its applications are still limited. The ability to produce ultra-strong metal components from the military-grade steel, however, could be a game changer. “You can really reduce your logistics footprint,” said Dr. Brandon McWilliams, a team lead in the lab’s manufacturing science and technology branch. “Instead of worrying about carrying a whole truckload, or convoys loads of spares, as long as you have raw materials and a printer, you can potentially make anything you need.”

Just as intriguing is the prospect of 4D printed parts. In case you might be wondering what exactly is meant by the term, 4D printing, encourage you to take a look at a Bloomberg video interview with the director of the MIT Self-Assembly Lab entitled “It’s Not Magic: Watch How Smart Parts Self Assemble” and the Stratasys “4D Printing Technology Project” website. Would ask you think about the potential implications as you prepare to be impressed.