Looking into the crystal ball is always fun.
3D printing has been in the news a lot recently and is an area of technology that is advancing at a frightening pace. Only a few months ago people were amazed at the ability to print simple plastic shapes but things have moved on rapidly.
Defence, especially ‘defense’, never seems far away from the latest technology. The US DoD have only just announced a $30 million study to look at defence applications for example.
Most of the real benefits will probably be realised in manufacturing rather than in theatre but a couple of proposed applications do look rather interesting.
The first is for printing buildings, no, honestly!
The terminology often used is ‘contour crafting’ and this describes a system to treat buildings the same as manufactured parts today. That is, integrated design and production using computers and machines rather than design and artisan craftsman.
It is not completely ‘printed’ but uses 3D printing for some aspects of the build.
The video below is a TED Talk from Behrokh Khoshnevis,from the Center for Rapid Automated Fabrication Technologies at the University of Southern California, supported by Caterpillar Inc
Apart from the non-defence benefits to the wider community the possibilities for building expeditionary infrastructure are fascinating. Instead of shipping materials and having lots of tradesmen that all need paying, feeding and otherwise supporting a couple of these machines, supervised by trained personnel and perhaps using local contractors to support other aspects such as ground preparation, utilities and final finishing has the potential for significant reductions in cost, fuel, time, airframe hours and delays etc etc.
In the video Behrokh describes how utility pipes and cables can be incorporated into the build process and the clip on the extruded reinforced wall is equally impressive.
Something like this might not replace the Hesco or Defencell systems we use today for expedient field fortification but could for the follow on phase where more permanent and less obvious defence related construction is needed.
It is not just the US that is looking at automated building construction techniques using additives and 3D printing, Loughborough University, for example, is researching the techniques used for component production using concrete additives, click here to read more.
The second and equally interesting application is called ‘Stone Spray’
Stone Spray is a related technology but instead of using concrete it uses sand and soil combined with additives, layered by a 3D printing technique.
One of the key stand outs of Stone Spray is that it is not limited to producing forms in horizontal layers, the resultant structure can therefore be much more intricate.
Read more at the Stone Spray website, click here
A sprayed bridge will not be replacing BR90 or the MGB any time soon but for projects and missions where time is less of an issue again, the potential benefits are significant.
Both techniques are clearly at the early stages but I think they are beyond interesting and have a whiff of revolution about them.