Marines Qualifying 3D Printed Replacement Impellers for Battle Tanks

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April 23, 2019 | Originally published by Date Line: April 23 on

3D printing is proving to be an important manufacturing technology within the defense sector. In the U.S. especially, resources are being allocated to explore the use of the technology for producing replacement parts on the fly, so that military equipment can be kept up and running. Recently, the Marine Corps Systems Command teamed up with fleet Marines and other organizations to investigate the performance of 3D printed impellers for M1A1 Abrams tanks.

Impellers play a critical role in the operation of tanks, as they help to remove dust from the tank’s engine, keeping the filters clean. If the part becomes damaged or suffers from wear, the impeller becomes less effective, as it pulls less air from the engine. The ability to 3D print impellers on demand could make it easier to temporarily replace out-of-commission impellers so that tanks have less downtime.

“Call it a spare tire or a stop-gap solution,” commented Joseph Burns, technical lead for MCSC’s Advanced Manufacturing Operations Cell. “This can get you through a mission, through your training exercise, or whatever may be critical at the time.”

In this case, additive manufacturing could help to overcome existing logistical challenges faced by the military. For instance, a large order for impellers was placed by the Marine Corps and Army a few years ago, which resulted in the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). Responsible for providing replacement parts for military vehicles, the DLA did not have enough impellers to meet the demand.