Soldiers are not always prepared for what the battlefield throws at them. That’s why the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force exists. They make sure that soldiers are prepared for anything they will encounter. The team of engineers that make up REF were already fast, but the latest innovation involving 3D printers makes them even faster.
The military is deploying what they call the Expeditionary Lab – Mobile to locations in Afghanistan. The lab is a simple 20 feet long shipping container that’s packed with the latest technologies including a 3D printer, industrial CNC machine, plasma cutters and more.
The tools inside the lab let the engineers make new parts for guns and other equipment on the spot in Afghanistan instead of having to ship the new equipment from overseas. It reduces the cost of shipping, but also means that soldiers will get immediate access to potential life saving equipment.
What’s interesting is the use of 3D printers and CNC machines. These technologies can crank out custom made parts for guns, armor and other equipment that soldiers will need on the field. It’s already been proven that 3D printers can make parts for a gun so we might start seeing the proliferation of plastic weapons on the battlefield.
There is currently only one lab deployed in Southern Afghanistan, but the military is planning on deploying a second to the Eastern part of the nation in the fall. They will also be keeping one in the states for natural disaster support.
I’ve always been a firm believer in the military’s role of advancing technology. What’s different this time is that the technology has already existed for some time. REF’s director, Col. Peter Newell, said that 3D printers “are not really inventing anything new; they are modifying something that exists already so they can do something else.” That might be the military’s key contribution to 3D printing. We might soon see a future where 3D printers not only create, but augment current technologies to do new things.