Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, has become a game-changer for the US Army, revolutionizing the repair process for aircraft damaged by birds and expediting the development of hypersonic weapons, according to high-ranking defense official Kate Devri.
Devri highlighted the significant advancements additive manufacturing has made in recent years, opening up new opportunities for creating weapons and components. The technology has proven particularly beneficial in the design of new systems, as it accelerates the creation of prototypes compared to traditional methods.
The slow supply chain for spare aircraft parts has also been addressed through 3D printing. Aircraft damage caused by bird collisions, which previously required lengthy wait times for repairs, can now be fixed overnight thanks to additive manufacturing.
In addition to speeding up repairs, 3D printers have also accelerated the production of new tools and their supply chain. Furthermore, the size of objects that can be printed has expanded to the point where entire buildings can now be constructed.
The Ministry of Defense has taken note of these achievements and is exploring ways to capitalize on them. Devri mentioned the possibility of using the new technologies to quickly print runways or hangars, potentially overnight.
Additive manufacturing technology has progressed from using fragile polymers to creating objects from materials with high tensile strength. It can now produce objects from metals with high entropy. Such metals have improved resistance to high temperatures and wear, making them suitable for use in critical components of hypersonic weapons, such as engines or structural elements.
Hypersonic systems rely on the presence of specialized chambers, known as direct-flow air-reactive engines (PVRD), which are challenging to manufacture. However, 3D printing provides manufacturers of hypersonic weapons with a simple solution for creating these necessary components.
Devri also stressed that while traditional production methods like casting and forging remain relevant, the Ministry of Defense and manufacturers should be selective in replacing them with additive manufacturing. Devri emphasized that additive production should be viewed as a tool in the arsenal, rather than a complete replacement for traditional methods.