Clever: How 3D Printing Is Quickly Putting Damaged Tank Back Into Action

Kris Osborn

(Washington, D.C.) Should U.S. forces be facing a massive armored enemy ground vehicle assault, they would need their own heavily armored vehicles -- such as infantry carriers, ground forces, unmanned attack vehicles and … perhaps of greatest significance…. Abrams tanks.

Large numbers of heavily armed, integrated and ready Abrams tanks would be needed for any kind of major ground offensive and “ready for war.” Achieving this is not always as easy as it may sound; Abrams tanks are complex war machines which rely upon a wide range of properly functioning systems and technologies, including ammunition, mounted weapons, armor, sensors and electronics. Abrams parts often need to be repaired, upgraded and effectively maintained. Replacing damaged parts or repairing war-torn elements of the tanks, such as its engine, armor, electronics or propulsion systems can be a challenging and lengthy problem.

The Army Research Laboratory is now involved in an accelerated high-tech effort to address this challenge, through an emerging 3D printing technology designed to “print new parts on demand,” Dr. Brandon A. McWilliams, Materials Engineer, Lead for Metals Added Manufacturing, Army Research Lab, told Warrior in an interview.

“Our vehicles come into U.S. depots and they need overhaul. A lot of times they can end up sitting there for 12 months while waiting for a part, whereas if we just print it, we can get that part much quicker,” McWiliams told Warrior in an Army Research Lab materials laboratory, Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md. The ARL work is part of Army Futures Command's Combat Capabilities Development Command,

Abrams tanks, in particular, are a focus of the ARL 3D printing effort, McWilliams said. The ARL lab has already 3D printed a replacement propeller fan for the Abrams tank.

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