Long considered a simple gadget, 3D printing could, according to specialists, become a disruptive technology. As a federating element of European defence, the European Defence Agency (EDA) has thus logically taken an interest in this technology and has launched a study to assess the areas where 3D printing (officially known as “additive manufacturing”) can have a positive impact on defence capabilities.
Mastered since 1980, 3D printing remained marginal for a long time. But since the beginning of this decade the technology has attracted renewed interest partly because patents that limited its use have expired and thus the way is clear for making quality improvements and reducing costs. How useful it might be in the defence sector remains to be seen, but a few scenarios already evoke the idea of taking a miniaturised printer to the battlefield so that the soldier can print, as he needs them, ammunition, bandages etc.
The EDA said in a statement that “the rise of Additive Manufacturing (AM) technologies has created a variety of possibilities and potential benefits for the defence community” and to identify what these are it has launched the “Additive Manufacturing Feasibility Study & Technology Demonstration” in the framework of the CapTech Materials & Structures, within the EDA Research & Technology (R&T) domain. The EDA will be supported by the Gijón (Spain) based research centre specialised in industrial design and production, Fundación Prodintec, and MBDA France, which needs no introduction. The choice of MBDA is logical given that it is one of the European pioneers of AM technologies. The European missile-house already prints some of the smaller components of its missiles at its Fusaro site in Italy.
The first activity carried out under this initiative will be a desktop study to place AM and its potential in a defence context. This work will summarise the state of the art ability of relevant AM technologies, identify existing R&T and manufacturing capabilities in Europe, and determine areas where further R&T activities should be carried out.
The second work strand is a technology demonstration of AM. To this end, a 3D printer will be deployed as part of the EDA Sponsored Airlift Exercise, to be held in Zaragoza (Spain). “This represents a significant step in bridging the data gap on 3D printer performance in deployed conditions and will demonstrate the operational utility of these technologies,” the EDA said in a statement.
At the end of the project, the results will be presented at an exhibition to high-ranking military staff, along with equipment and demonstrators, in order to raise awareness on the possible impact of AM in defence.