Since the beginning of time, our prehistoric ancestors have always been engaged in one form of war or the other. Our ancestors fought against the elements which sought to destroy through diseases; they struggled against apex predators—like the Sabre-tooth tiger—who sought to use them as a source of food, before finally warring against one another, with the aim of securing the necessary resources needed to survive thousands of years ago. In all these years, mans’ ability to wage war became more and more sophisticated due to the technological enhancements prevalent in those times.
So it comes as no surprise to note that as technology advances, warfare changes once these emerging technologies are integrated into the manufacturing of weapons and the rise of additive manufacturing as well as its militaristic use will be no different.
Now, focusing on the subject matter at hand, it is no longer news that additive manufacturing is a technology equipped with the ability to spearhead the fourth industrial revolution as can be seen from the great strides it has made in enhancing human endeavors in diverse industries. As 3D printing enthusiasts, I believe that most of us have read of the creative wonders additive manufacturing has bestowed on the field of healthcare, architecture, engineering, construction etc. But for one reason or the other, which may include the destructive nature of war, the use of 3D printers in the weapon creation industry has not been touched with the aforementioned analysis prevalent in other fields.
So today, an attempt will be made to discuss the use of additive manufacturing in warfare from a holistic point of view.
The Development of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles/Systems
Recognizing the advances in 3D printing technologies, the United States Marine Corps set up a dedicated 3D printing program with the aim of mass-producing militaristic items with ease and at any location. Looking deeper, it is only right to state that this program—which was heralded by the Logistics Innovation Challenge—was developed to give the US army a considerable edge during wartime. The program recorded considerable successes for it led to the development of an unmanned aerial system named ‘Scout’ with reconnaissance features which was built with approximately $600.
Traditionally, the building of ‘spy drones’ costs the US military thousands of dollars which made them priced assets that were deployed only in times of great need but with the creation of ‘Scout’, the revered status that came with most unmanned aerial vehicles will be slowly but surely eroded. Consequently, modified versions of ‘Scout’ are now been used to conduct reconnaissance duties without much thought given to how expensive such operations were in the past.
The Printing of Ammunitions at Scale
The firepower of an army is generally determined by how much ammunition it can get its hands on during a conflict and as was witnessed in the 2nd World War, the countries with the capacity to create more ammunition generally came out the victor. The 2nd World War also saw humanity make large strides in enhancing project management techniques and developing mass manufacturing tools across every continent thereby equipping most nations with the ability to manufacture ammunition at will. Therefore, a nation can only standout in today’s world if it develops a more efficient way to manufacture ammunitions from diverse materials as well as faster than its competition.
Recognizing these facts, the US military has turned to the unbelievable speed, versatility and affordability additive manufacturing brings to the table by experimenting with` the mass development of ammunition through 3D printing. As expected, major successes have been recorded from this effort, as the US military ended up 3D printing live ammunition that actually works and can be used in battle which in turn paints a frightening picture. Just imagine the how efficient a group of soldiers will be if they no longer have to rely on supplies coming from their host bases, but can simply 3D print ammunition, vehicle, and machine parts, human body parts, food etc. as they move from one location to the other?
This revolution will definitely have enhanced the German war effort during the battle of Stalingrad by drastically reducing the logistics associated with carting ammunitions as well as other goods from Germany and its environs to Russia. And it is also definitely going to change modern warfare as we know it in the coming years.
The Re-development of Destroyed Art crafts
Thankfully, the revolution is not all negative though as can be seen by the recent efforts of diverse nations and other third-party manufacturers, who seek to rebuild the runes of destroyed art forms with the aid of 3D printing. These ruins include the ancient temples and sculptures that made those places tourist attractions as well as the ruined homes, hospitals and civic centers war torn areas eventually lack.
The development of 3D printers that make use of diverse materials—wood, metal, ceramics, fibre etc.—makes achieving the huge re-building task that is to follow after wars more than possible. The application of additive manufacturing technologies will also ensure that these tasks are carried out more efficiently and would gulp very little capital when compared with re-building via traditional means.
The fourth industrial age is here to stay and the exact roles 3d printing will play in defining how it develops can only be speculated at for now. But one thing is sure, manufacturing in every industry vertical—bio-medicine, the military, engineering, science etc.—will come to rely heavily on the on-going innovations in the field of additive manufacturing.