Army Gets Boost From World’s Largest, Fastest Metal Powder 3-D Printer

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Source: U.S. Army,
Source: U.S. Army,

March 15, 2021 | Originally published by U.S. Army on March 9, 2021

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md.  A new technology will speed up development of 3-D-printed components for a variety of Army applications.

The initiative is part of a cooperative agreement among the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, known as DEVCOM, Army Research Laboratory, the Clemson Composites Center at Clemson University, and industry.

Researchers will create a digital lifecycle platform augmented with artificial intelligence, which will help production engineers more quickly and inexpensively design, analyze, and fabricate a wide range of large and complex geometry components with embedded multifunctionalities, such as ground and air vehicle structures with power transmission, energy storage, sensing, and self-monitoring functions, for achieving overall size, weight, power, and cost, or SWaP-C, efficiencies.

Once fully developed, the platform will allow engineers to design and test new components without physically building them.

Part of the challenge in 3-D-printing new components is using the right feedstock — the material fed into the 3-D printer to print the component. Researchers need to understand the combination of materials and what amounts will create the desired properties, such as strength or stiffness.

“As part of the new project, we will develop a database of raw materials, including metals, plastics, and composite materials that could then be used to train artificial intelligence and create digital models of potential new feedstock materials,” said Srikanth Pilla, the Robert Patrick Jenkins Endowed Professor within the College of Engineering, Computing, and Applied Sciences and founding director of the Clemson Composites Center.

To create the database, the researchers plan to print samples called coupons and subject them to a series of tests to measure their chemical, mechanical, and thermophysical properties.

Researchers said the coupon testing will position them for more advanced studies in the future. In those studies, they would 3-D-print subcomponents that take into account the complex geometries of full-size components.

“The database development, as well as validation of the digital life cycle through experimental characterization and testing, are enabled using the state-of-the-art infrastructure available at the Clemson Composites Center, which includes 3-D printers, thermophysical testing equipment, optical metrology, quasi-static and dynamic drop-tower test infrastructure, accelerated aging equipment, high-speed cameras, and spectroscopic equipment,” Pilla said.

New discoveries in 3-D printing have tremendous potential to impact how Soldiers are equipped in battle.

“This collaboration will advance the laboratory’s ability to find new and novel ways to advance the science of advanced manufacturing as well as creating a pipeline of new talent, all towards our mission to operationalize science for transformational overmatch,” said Stephanie Koch, an associate director at ARL.

The collaboration includes South Carolina-based industry partner 3D Systems, which has created a unique 3-D printer for ARL.

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