3D Hybrid Solutions Inc, Los Angeles, California, USA, last year provided a ruggedised, mobile, metal Additive Manufacturing system to the US Marines. The technology utilised is the 3D Hybrid Add-on Wire-Arc tool, with the added integration of automatic tool changeover capability for rapid transition from Additive Manufacturing to CNC machining of the same part.
Speaking to Metal AM, Karl Hranka, 3D Hybrid’s Founder, explained that his company was approached by the Marines to provide a solution for the remote manufacturing and repair of parts on-demand in the field of combat. The Marines had identified the need for a mobile solution which could be used for rapid manufacturing and repairs, while occupying a small installed footprint in the confined space of a military base.
Because sourcing replacement parts from the traditional supply chain to a remote environment can take weeks or even months, the rapid on-demand production of parts has been the focus of much technological research by the military. Importantly, the Marines also recognised the benefits of the 3D Hybrid’s Directed Energy Deposition (DED) technology in terms of part cost, quality and reliability. Using a wire feedstock, the process uses economical and proven materials including alloys of aluminium, steel, stainless steel, maraging steel, nickel superalloys and more.
Further, the use of this deposition approach means that parts can be produced without the porosity that can be found in some powder-based AM processes. As porosity can contribute to poor fatigue characteristics in a component, the lack of porosity in parts produced by the 3D Hybrid method is said to offer a key advantage for components where lifetime is critical.
3D Hybrid delivered its custom solution to the Marines two months after order, and Hranka stated that it was already producing parts on a desert base three days after delivery. The installed machine reportedly offers X-axis travel of 46 cm (18 in), Y-axis travel of 28 cm (11 in) and Z-axis travel of 41 cm (16.25 in), as well as a fourth axis for rotary build up and impeller fan applications. The Wire-Arc tool is said to offer build speeds upwards of 3.6 kg/h (8 lb/h).
The Marines are now reported to be using the Add-on Wire-Arc tool as and where it is needed, having metal additively manufactured both a wheel hub for an inoperable, broken-down amphibious assault vehicle, and mounting blocks on demand at short notice. The machine is also being tested for the repair of damaged piston faces and pinion gears.
“What’s interesting to consider with the Military, is the wide breadth of applications that they may come across,” observed Hranka. “For a company, there’s a limited scope of parts on a car or rocket, for example. But with the Military, there’s a diverse set of artillery, tanks, humvees, weaponry, etc. Only some metal AM service providers may come across comparable, diverse scopes of applications.”
“I don’t think there’s another application a metal AM machine is serving with comparable value,” he continued. “The value of bringing an assault vehicle back to service in austere environments can save lives, enhance national security and military readiness. Sourcing a replacement component through the supply chain may take weeks or even months, leaving military equipment useless.”
“The same approach should also be considered for oil and gas, mining, and space markets,” he concluded. As well as working with the military, 3D Hybrid Solutions has experience in the rocket, aerospace, oil & gas and industrial sectors. It offers its hybrid tools for any CNC machine, in addition to process development services for customers.