Army Research Lab Uses Discarded Plastic to 3D Print Supplies

December
2018

On the battlefield, it can be difficult for soldiers to get supplies. Weapons, fuel, and food supplies must make their way to foreign soil, through hostile territory, and onward to remote army bases. Dispatching nonstructural, noncritical items is particularly challenging — a single broken bracket on a military vehicle radio can take months to replace. Sometimes, troops end up replacing the entire radio at a cost of hundreds of dollars.

Researchers at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) have developed a way to use discarded plastic waste as starting material for additive manufacturing on army bases. Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, is a layer-upon-layer process that joins composite materials to make a product based on a 3D model. It is small-scale manufacturing that can be done at home or in laboratories without the need for large factories or plants.

“If we can transition this technology to the field, soldiers wouldn’t need to ship materials,” says Nicole Zander, a chemist at ARL. “They could take their trash and print anything they need. It would allow soldiers to get rid of waste that would otherwise have to be burned or transported, and on-demand manufacturing would provide whatever parts they need without lengthy wait times.”

 

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