Markforged, the Boston-based startup that has been leading the developments in the field of metal 3D printing has announced that its “Metal X” system is soon to be deployed in the U.S. Army.
Already, the company has commissioned “Metal X” at Camp Kinser on the island of Okinawa, in Japan. There, the metal 3D printer helps the Marine Corps Forces stationed far from home to print out spare parts for their vehicles and weapon systems. Examples include sockets for wrenches, and gauges for .50-caliber machine guns.
The 12 technicians who work on the 3rd Maintenance Battalion shop at the Okinawa camp have used 3D printers before, but they were only able to print out plastic parts so they were mainly used for prototyping. Metal X is opening up a whole host of new possibilities, as it can print out stainless steel, tool steel, Inconel, copper, and even titanium parts and tools. Everything starts as powder and is bind together in a polymer matrix before it passes through liquid argon which removes the binding agent. Finally, the printed parts are sintered for up to 27 hours and a maximum temperature of up to 1482°C.
The workshop of the camp also has CNC machines, but the shop foreman stated that they like to turn to Metal X for an increasing number of cases. Machining a single component may take up to 12 hours, but the 3D printer can produce multiple parts at once, and then assemble everything to end up with a whole component that is ready for service.
This is a pilot test case for the U.S. Army, as metal printing could help solve a wide spectrum of problems in the ever-changing field of military operations. 3D printing provides this well-needed versatility, and the United States are already exploring a wide array of possible applications for additive manufacturing systems in general. They have experimented with 3D-printed grenade launchers, ship hulls, skin for wound healing, and even the printing of meals for soldiers.