Astro develops world's largest 3D printer
Has the potential to transform how military vehicles are built Metal Tech News – April 21, 2021
Last updated 4/27/2021 at 3:47pm
The assembly line forever changed the way production of goods were developed, launching mankind into the industrial era. Now, the next step gets a little sci-fi with ASTRO America developing the world's largest metal 3D printer for ground vehicle production.
Like those cool scenes in futuristic movies, with incredible production from multidirectional assemblies with too many mechanical arms to count. While not quite there, the next steps have begun to take shape with a manufacturing process drawing on the strengths of 3D printing.
The Applied Science & Technology Research Organization, or ASTRO America, announced earlier this month that it had been selected to develop and deliver a hull-scale tool using metal additive manufacturing sponsored by the United States Army.
Dubbed the "Jointless Hull Project," the goal is to provide improved production speeds, reduced production costs, reduced vehicle weight, greater vehicle performance and increased survivability.
"The mission is to develop a large-scale tool capable of producing single, jointless combat vehicle hulls at a near net size of 30 feet by 20 ft by 12 ft in size," said Larry Holmes, principal investigator at ASTRO America. "Additive manufacturing at a massive scale holds the potential to transform the way vehicles are built for the military while reducing supply chain fragility."
This project is contracted through LIFT (Leading Innovations for Tomorrow or Learning Innovations for Tomorrow), the Detroit-based Department of Defense-supported national manufacturing innovation institute with Michigan-based U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) Ground Vehicle Systems Center (GVCS) directing the program.
Additionally, the Army's Rock Island Arsenal, Joint Manufacturing Technology Center, is a key partner, providing the location for the operation of the future printing platform.
"Advanced manufacturing methods that are capable of enabling innovative part designs and concepts have tremendous value in achieving part, component, and ultimately vehicle concepts to provide warfighters and systems with leading performance advantages," said Aaron LaLonde, additive manufacturing SME, U.S. Army DEVCOM GVSC. "This project will scale the benefits of metal additive manufacturing to a size range that will allow the benefits of the technology to be realized on larger system scale parts and enable next generation vehicle performance."
Hulls built as a single unit, called monolithic hulls, for combat vehicles have well-established advantages in survivability and weight savings – yet traditional manufacturing processes are not cost-effective or adaptable to full production of these kinds of plating.
ASTRO has already kicked off the project with an Industry Day featuring both prospective machine vendors and leading vehicle builders. This latest award is a testament to the urgency to correct broader market limitations and to deliver state-of-the-art technology solutions for future military vehicles.
"This is an ideal project for ASTRO America and its highly experienced team," said ASTRO America Executive Director Jason Gorey. "This is not a research project for either hardware, software or materials. This is a direct implementation project where we scale existing, but advanced methodologies to the required hull-scale size. We will be working with equipment vendors as well as system integrators to deliver on this project."
While a long way from private commercialization, it is a typical trend that at some point, innovations for military use makes its way to the public, potentially providing futuristic factories that can build a car in several hours from the ground up. And though these first steps may seem impossible, future generations will see it as the only way it could ever be done.