Australian Army 3D prints parts in the bush
Puts WarpSPEE3D Tactical 3D printers through grueling trial Metal Tech News – December 1, 2021
Last updated 11/30/2021 at 1:33pm
Whether on the frontlines of a battle or on a humanitarian mission in some remote corner of Earth, military vehicles are usually far from a parts depot when they are needed most. This is why the Australian Army is rigorously testing metal 3d printing technologies developed by SPEE3D to replace armored vehicle parts in the field.
During its annual bilateral military exercise between the Australian Army and the Marine Rotational Force – Exercise Koolendong – various parts for an M113 Armored Personnel Carrier were replaced with metal parts printed on-site with SPEE3D technology.
Founded in 2015, Australia-based SPEE3D is the evolution of In Motion Technology, a company co-founded by Byron Kennedy and Steve Camilleri to commercialize their axial flux motor technology used to race the famed Desert Rose, a solar-powered vehicle that successfully competed against solar vehicles developed by industry giants such as General Motors and Honda.
With the proceeds from its axial flux motor technology and the successful sale of IMT, the pair formed SPEE3D.
What sets this company's metal 3D printers apart from the rest is the "supersonic 3D deposition" technology developed by SPEE3D. Rather than using heat to melt metal powders, this patented process accelerates air up to three times the speed of sound through a rocket nozzle, through which metal powders are injected then deposited onto a substrate maneuvered by a six-axis robotic arm.
The sheer kinetic energy of the particles hitting each other causes the powder to bind together and form a high-density part with metallurgical properties superior to casting.
Listed on the company's website, the metal powders currently used for its incredibly fast and high-quality prints are aluminum 6061 and pure copper, with development of aluminum bronze, copper tungsten, copper chrome, and 316L stainless steel in the pipeline.
SPEE3D has been working closely with the Australian Army and Royal Australian Navy to bring the company's 3D printing capabilities to the Australian Defence Force, with world-first field trials designed to test the feasibility of deploying metal 3D printing as an alternative, both in barracks and in the field.
A number of trials conducted in 2020 resulted in over 50 case studies of printable parts and demonstrated that SPEE3D's WarpSPEE3D printer was robust enough to operate in the remote Australian bushlands. The program was then extended in 2021 to verify initial results.
This year, SPEE3D was tasked with helping train the Australian Army's first military Additive Manufacturing Cell technicians who specialize in the production of metal 3D printed parts, from design, printing, machining, heat-treatment, through to certification.
In the remote bushland of Bradshaw Training Area in the Northern Territory, the AMC and SPEE3D tested WarpSPEE3D Tactical Printers as part of its toughest trial yet. For three weeks, the printer was transported on a round trip of more than 1,200 kilometers (746 miles) over rough terrain to operate in hot and dusty conditions.
During the trial, the AMC produced more than a dozen different replacement parts for an M113 Armored Personnel Carrier, a vehicle that has been used by the Australian Army for over 40 years.
The trial aimed to prove metal 3D printing could produce high-quality, military-grade parts that can be validated and certified for use in the field. For example, one of the parts made was a wheel bearing cover, a part which is often damaged by trees when driving through bushland. The two-kilogram (4.4 pounds) cover was printed in just 29 minutes at a print cost of around US$100.
The team was able to 3D print, heat treat, machine, test, and validate the parts in the field, as well as redesign and fortify some parts, ultimately reducing the risk of future damages.
"This is a great example of how expeditionary metal 3D printing can improve Defence readiness," said SPEE3D CEO Byron Kennedy. "Field trials conducted in 2020 proved SPEE3D technology was deployable. This year's trial extension was bigger, longer, and more remote, making it the world's toughest and longest metal 3D printing trial so far."
The success of this trial clearly demonstrated the importance additive manufacturing would play in military readiness. Additionally, the AMC will continue to explore components that can be repaired using metal 3D printing when Australia's military vehicles are deployed on missions far from a parts depot.