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3D Printing and the United States Airforce

Everything from weapons parts to bombs to military gear could contain 3D printed components

The United States Air Force never stops working on strategy to make Americans safer. And a lot of the time, these strategies involve new technologies, or developing new methods of using existing tech. One of the resources that will prove very useful to the Air Force in the coming years is 3D printing. While most people think of 3D printing being used in commercial manufacturing or the healthcare industries, it also has a big impact on the military and Air Force. Everything from weapons parts to bombs to military gear could contain 3D printed components in the future.

Advanced Ordnance Technologies Program

There is a program in the United States Air Force referred to as Advanced Ordnance Technologies. The goal of the program is to ensure that future bombs are lighter, smaller and leaner – while still packing a devastating punch. Why? Because the lighter and smaller a bomb, the easier it is to deploy and move around. The world stood up and took notice when the United States dropped the “mother of all bombs” in a remote region of Afghanistan. Imagine if a bomb could pack that punch, but be half as light and small? It would be so much easier to transport and deploy in any situation.

The goal is to use 3D-printed reconstructed loads in the bomb, along with distributed blast yields. That would result in something that is smaller and lighter, but still very powerful. The news of the military’s plans came out in the middle of 2017, and it is clear they are still working very hard on this goal. At the time, Dr. John Corley spoke about the Air Force’s goals and had the following to say: “We’ve been working on printing [munitions] for the past five to 10 years.”

The problem with most bombs the military produces is they are featuring two-inch case walls, which drastically increases the weight and the size of the item. The goal is to use some type of casing prototype that can be 3D printed. It would use steel and other materials to ensure the load is moved from the case into the bomb itself. By having the weight lowered so drastically, it would be much easier for the United States Air Force to get one of these weapons on their planes and then drop it at the necessary location in the middle of a conflict.

3D Printing and Planes

The Air Force is not just using 3D printing for the purposes of making bombs lighter. 3D printing will also play an increasingly larger role in the way military planes are designed and repaired. One of the obvious ways that 3D printing assists the air force is in replacement parts. Instead of needing a supply of those parts or needing to have them shipped from different parts of the world, it is possible to print them out on location. Not only does that save a lot of time, but it is cheaper than the existing methods.

There is also the fact that the military has a massive $2.9 million contract with Renaissance Services, which shows its commitment to 3D printing moving forward. The company is famous for its ability to work on 3D printed ceramic tooling that would be used to print out aerospace-grade parts. The goal is to ensure that parts are available quicker, cheaper and in a more versatile way. The Air Force also hopes that such contracts will eventually help them produce parts that are lighter than the existing ones. That would mean aircraft could be lighter and more maneuverable, while still maintaining the same structural integrity.

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