The US Marine Corps and just about every other branch of the Armed Forces faces a challenge: finding spare parts for aging weapons systems.
Ensuring pilots are as prepared as possible means logging plenty of flight hours, but when planes are grounded because engineers are waiting on spare parts that are hard to find, it means less preparedness. And this is just one of many examples.
“We’re having a lot of problems in our system,” Capt. Matthew Friedell, project officer at the Marine Corps Advanced Manufacturing Operations Cell recently said. “There’s parts and pieces on vehicles that haven’t been made since the 1970s and 1980s, and it’s very hard to replace those parts. The vendor is either out of business or we can’t find the data on it, so we have to start making these by ones and twos.”
It was a simple bracket for attaching radios to humvees that needed fixing years back, which led the Marine Corps to realize the potential for 3d printing.
“Without it the radio rattles around and can’t keep in good contact with the electronics it needs to keep in contact with, or Marines just end up holding it,” Friedell said. “That was sort of our ‘Aha!’ moment. Now we can have those parts and the next person that needs that doesn’t have to research it or engineer it, they can just hit print.”
Friedel stresses that while it's important to have this capability, it's also important to communicate to each member of the Marine Corps that this technology is available to them.
“Really anything in the inventory in terms of parts and pieces can be 3D printed, but the question becomes should it be 3D printed."