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Defense Application of Additive Manufacturing to Armament Systems


David Alfano | Mechanical Engineer | U.S. Army - DEVCOM Armament Center

Recorded: RAPID + TCT 2023 Conference

Conference Session Description:

Armaments, especially large caliber armaments, tend to be complicated, highly loaded, and low production rate items. The complicated geometries and low rates of production lends itself to additive manufacturing (AM). One extremely attractive benefit of AM is the ability to print at the point of need. This ability can greatly simplify the logistics train and will help units stay in the fight even when cut off from resupply. However, until recently the high material property requirements and physical size have made converting these parts to AM impractical.

One current AM effort is a 155mm muzzle brake. This brake is currently cast with long lead times and a significant portion require rework. The part is roughly 33 inches long, 15 inches tall and 20 inches wide. Attempts have been made to manufacture this brake via Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing and Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing. Additionally, an effort is underway to optimize the design and print it using laser powder bed fusion.

Another effort is focused on evaluating bound metal printing as possible means of fabricating at the point of need. A program is underway to compare bound metal solutions from MarkForged, BASF, Rapida and others. The program will consist of printing coupons and conducting material property testing to compare these different materials / systems. Parts will then be fabricated, and field tested.

This presentation will go over these and other efforts currently underway at the DEVCOM Armaments Center along with their goals, progress, and future plans.

Significance/Importance: Additive manufacturing technologies provides suitable solutions to issues observed with complex geometries, low rates of production, and necessary rework from traditional manufacturing techniques that are common in the defense environment. It also provides the opportunity to forward deploy the capability to fabricate essential parts at the point of need in a relatively small package solution. This presentation covers trends within defense applications and the goals, progress, and plans in how additive manufacturing is critical to future armament advancements.