The idea of creating everything from drones to military weapons from a 3-D printer sounds like something from a futuristic science-fiction novel. However, it’s becoming a reality across the globe.
Three-dimensional printers are proving to be capable of creating almost anything, and experts say they could be the military’s key to keeping up with an endless demand for supplies – from drones to ammunition.
The printers are turning up everywhere from the desks of home hobbyists to U.S. Air Force drone research centers. The machines, about the size of a microwave oven, cost anywhere from $400 to $500,000 and produce layers of plastics or other materials – including metal – to turn out 3-D objects with moving parts, including iPad stands, guitars, jewelry and guns.
Proof positive that 3-D printing is on an upswing: a new $200 million public-private initiative recently announced by the White House will fund three new advanced 3-D manufacturing centers around the country to help design new weapons and equipment for the military.
Two of those centers will be under the control of the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). One will work on creating digital databases that can streamline the process of manufacturing complex weapon systems, and the other will focus on developing new, stronger and lighter-weight metals for the next generation of military vehicles and body armor.
In the last two years, the DOD has spent more than $2 million on 3-D printers, supplies, and maintenance, using the devices for everything from medical research to weapons development.
The military is a natural fit for 3-D printers because of the urgency of warfare, according to Dartmouth College business professor Richard D’Aventi.
“Imagine a soldier on a firebase in the mountains of Afghanistan,” D’Aventi says. “A squad is attacked by insurgents. The ammunition starts to run out. Is it worth waiting hours and risking the lives of helicopter pilots to drop it near you, or is it worth a more expensive system that can manufacture weapons and ammunition on the spot?”
If you’d like to own a 3-D printer yourself, experts predict that, like home computers, they will become more affordable as more and more people see the potential benefits for home use. And if you just can’t wait to get your hands on one — and need a little help paying for it — you might consider a short-term military loan from Just Military Loans.
Are you using 3-D printing in your military job? What would you create if you had a 3-D printer? We’d love to hear your thoughts!