U.S. Army researchers working alongside the Marines have developed an on-demand printing system with a suite of tools that allows soldiers to enter mission parameters and then get a 3D-printed aviation asset within 24 hours.
U.S. Army Research Lab researcher Eric Spero and his team brought their idea to life at the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command's annual Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment (AEWE) at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 2016.
"Several years ago when we were collaborating with our academic partner, Georgia Tech, we had this project where we were focusing on design engineering of small unmanned aircraft systems," said Spero, a team lead within the laboratory's Vehicle Technology Directorate.
The team then reached out to the U.S. Marine Corps and worked with them to provide a software catalog that Marines would use to select and print an unmanned aircraft system for a specific mission.
"We have interacted with Marines who have never touched an unmanned system before to Marines who are experts in unmanned aerial flight," said ARL engineer Larry R. Holmes Jr. "Across the board they all seemed to be very interested in the topic of being able to manufacture a tool that they can use that was mission specific and has a turn around."
Holmes said the Marines expected the turnaround to be days or weeks, but the team showed them that the turnaround time can be anywhere from minutes to hours.
Researchers said they plan to streamline their processes based on feedback received from the Marines in order to enable unprecedented situational awareness.