Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Navy considers 3D-printing future fleets of drones

Three-dimensional (3D) printers are quickly proving to be capable of creating just about anything out of little more than thin air, and that could be the military’s key to keeping an endless arsenal of drones at its disposal.
Just as 3D-printed organs, pizza and even firearms are being made with the post-modern machinery, the United States military is eyeing the up-and-coming technology as to further their upper-hand on the battlefield. Recently, a decorated member of the US Navy made an argument for adding unmanned aerial vehicles and even munitions to the list of items that can be made with little more than a well-equipped printer and a few clicks of a mouse. 

Hobbyists and engineering students have already toyed with the idea of using 3D printers to make unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, but the Navy could piggyback on that idea to ensure that UAVs made to withstand military operations are soon a reality. In an article published this month in the Armed Forces Journal, Lt. Cmdr. Michael Llenza discussed what could be next in the works for the Navy.

For the Navy, the technology promises to shift inventory from the physical world to the digital one,” Llenza wrote. “Instead of actual parts, a ship might carry 3D printers and bags of various powdered ingredients, and simply download the design files needed to print items as necessary.” 

What kind of items? According to Llenza, just about anything. 

Today’s printers are generally limited to printing parts made of just one material, and variance is a big issue,” he said. “But the development of multiple-material devices is well underway, and the technology is racing ahead.” ....................................