3D Printing: A Revolutionary Technology For The Make In India Enabled Indian Armed Forces

<p style="text-align: justify;"><strong>3D printing,&nbsp;</strong>also termed as additive manufacturing (AM) or rapid prototyping is a revolutionary technology. Today, there is no field or industry where 3D printing has not impacted. NASA has placed a 3D printer on board its space station in 2014, and an object which was 3D printed in space was to be brought on to the earth in 2015. It was for comparing it to a similar part printed on ground. In the space, the printing was in microgravity conditions, while at ground it is the normal gravity which is all around. This 3D printer will enable fulfilling the needs of a part on demand while in space! Digital inventory put to such an awesome use! Thus, a 3D printer, a la a space workshop, got operational way back in 2014. In 2020, one needs to take a cue from this. The application of 3D printing be adapted post haste and the capabilities be enhanced by its unlimited potential. The military, today, needs to bring a 3D printing environment; it will be akin to the IT revolution! Everyone carrying a smart cell phone in their palms; more capable than desktop computers three decades back.</p><p><img style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" src="" width="400" height="300" /></p><p style="text-align: justify;"><strong>Image required to be uploaded here</strong></p><p style="text-align: justify;">This paper aims at familiarising all, especially military practitioners, with 3D printing. Like a cell phone which has become a lifeline, 3D printing will be a household gadget in the near future. It will find its place in every facet of military.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">A military practitioner can obtain any desired information from the open source on 3D printing. This article would have done justice if military practitioners are able to think and visualise about 3D printing and know ways how to apply it to make the military more operational and war ready!</p><p style="text-align: justify;"><strong>A historical perspective</strong></p><p style="text-align: justify;">Everyone seems to have heard about 3D printing already. Yet many do not appreciate the technology and are unable to differentiate a 3D printer from a conventional paper printer. Many still due to the nomenclature in vogue, i.e., 3D printing, consider it similar to a conventional printer from where one gets a hard copy or printed copy of a digital document.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">A 3D printer is a computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) device that creates three dimensional objects. Like a traditional printer, a 3D printer receives digital data as input. However, instead of printing the output on paper, a 3D printer builds a three-dimensional model out of a customised material. It is called &lsquo;additive manufacturing&rsquo;, as it involves building up of the object by deposition of the material, layer by layer in horizontal cross-sections.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">In 1859, a French &lsquo;photosculptor&rsquo; named Fran&ccedil;ois Will&egrave;me demonstrated the world&rsquo;s first &ldquo;3D scanning&rdquo; technology by using 24 cameras to simultaneously photograph subjects from different angles. 3D scanners today prove to be very useful in creating 3D digital files, which serve to be the input file for the 3D printer. Thus, any object could be scanned and replicated physically. The size of the replica can be customised depending on the needs! Therefore, it does not demand special skills or qualifications and can be used by anyone and everyone.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">In 1892, inventor Joseph E. Blanther was awarded a patent for a method of creating 3D topographical maps using a layering method &mdash; similar in concept to today&rsquo;s 3D printers. Thus, the topographical depictions used for military tactical planning and training can be 3D printed with the accuracy of a Google Earth depiction. This use, which was invented more than a century ago, has matured today. A company like Rize USA, has the technology to 3D replicate a given topography with all kinds of labelling and marking. Such 3D printed maps to scale will prove of great value for military tacticians and planners in war, and for training and exercises in peace time.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">The earliest record of 3D printing through the additive process was the Japanese inventor Hideo Kodama in 1981. He created a product that used ultraviolet lights to harden polymers and create solid objects. This was the steppingstone to stereolithography.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">It is going to be almost four decades! Chuck Hull then invented a process called &ldquo;stereo lithography&rdquo; (SLA)! Here, UV laser was used to solidify photopolymer where 3D printed parts were created layer by layer.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">In 1987, Carl Deckard at University of Texas pioneered an alternative method of 3D printing, which turns loose powder into a solid, instead of Chuck Hall&rsquo;s liquid resin process. The process is termed as Selective Laser Sintering (SLS). It involved using a laser to bind the powder together as a solid. It took until 2006 for the first SLS printer becoming commercially viable, thereby opening up new opportunities in manufacturing.</p><p style="text-align: justify;"><img src="" /></p><p style="text-align: justify;">In 1989, S. Scott Crump, along with his wife and fellow inventor Lisa Crump, invented and patented a new additive manufacturing method called Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM). This technique involves melting a polymer filament and depositing it onto a substrate, layer by layer, to create a 3D object.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">The 3D printing has now come off age in metals as well. The same was triggered by Carl Deckhard in 1987 with introduction of SLS technology. By 2018-2019, the desktop metal printing got commercial. Today the metal 3D printing has entered into every industry!</p><p style="text-align: justify;">3D Printing has impacted the aerospace and defence industry in a phenomenal manner. It is profound. The Indian armed forces, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs), and several factories under the umbrella of Ordnance Factory Board and the Indian Coast Guard require to seriously look into this technology. The need is to look at it incisively, for not getting integrated to this technology is going to prove detrimental. It is of immense significance when the mantra chanted all across the nation is &ldquo;Make In India&rdquo;! 3D printing is a brilliant technology, but even more a versatile tool for the tech savvy as well as one who has no technological exposure. Therefore, this will be loved by every corps of the army, branches of the Air Force and the Navy. The DPSUs, ordnance factories, and labs of the DRDO in their own interest adapt to this 3D printing technology; earlier the better as all would realise the opportunity lost due to not embracing the technology.</p><p style="text-align: justify;"><strong>3D printing in aerospace &amp; defence sector globally</strong></p><p style="text-align: justify;">3D printing serves &ldquo;Just In Time&rdquo; (JIT) as well as &ldquo;On Demand&rdquo; availability of a part; could be of an aircraft, a tank, a gun, a ship or a submarine. The 3D printing has found its way into the armies across the globe. US Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Centre (ARDEC) have acquired a Rize Inc. 3D printer recently for spare parts printing on demand. Digitally augmented parts capability adds traceability and an extra layer of confidence in parts. This enables personnel to embed serial numbers and QR codes into end use parts that tie back to detailed digital information about the part.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">For the Navy, the technology will lead to an inventory from the physical world to the digital one. A ship might carry 3D printers and input material and download the design files needed and print items as necessary. A company with one of the largest numbers of commercial vessels deployed across the seas, Maersk, has placed a 3D printer onboard in almost all of their vessels. This they did long back. These lines will amplify this. &ldquo;The idea is that we send the blueprint to the crew on board the tanker vessel, they will push &lsquo;print&rsquo; and in a matter of hours get the part,&rdquo; is the statement of M&auml;rtha Josefine Rehnberg, a category manager at Maersk Procurement. In December 2018, US&rsquo; Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) approved placement of a 3D printer on board on USS Harry S Truman, an aircraft carrier. The aim is to obtain parts as &ldquo;On demand&rsquo; basis. The US Navy has been actively using 3D printing for several years in the past. The Indian Navy can look at the endeavours of the University of Maine. They got into Guinness World Record on 10 October 2019 for the production of the 3D printed 25 ft, 5,000 pounds boat. This was achieved in mere 72 hours. 3D printing will serve and surpass the expectations at the Naval dockyards, by enhanced and on demand availability of spare parts. This will prove its efficacy on board naval vessels and aircraft carrier.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">The 3D printing has been used for ship and submarine design, interior design and proto-typing and testing.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">The Israeli Air Force&rsquo;s Aerial Maintenance Unit (AMU) has extensively used 3D printing to maintain old aircraft and helicopter fleets. They use 3D printing to print drone components. AMU is using 3D printing towards maintenance of 1980 vintage F-15s. This is an ideal case to exemplify the application of 3D printing in obsolescence management.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">3D printing can enhance operational readiness. At the same time, it has proven to help in saving a great deal of money. At the Yokota Air Base in Japan, Air Force service members have found a way to potentially save millions of dollars, not to mention improving air crew safety, by using 3D printing to modify a standard issue gas mask into an aircraft oxygen system.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">The preceding paragraphs are few examples of applications of 3D printing in the military forces, i.e., army, navy and the air force. The use and applications are overwhelming and huge.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">The military talent pool here has a chance to harness the 3D printing capabilities towards on demand supply of parts. They could easily translate the knowledge and experience to advance and improve the platforms and at the same time improve the maintenance effectiveness and efficiency. The technology is very well ingrained in the education industry. It thus has a vast potential for training of talent in peace. The military talent working on the 3D printing platforms would gain potentially by getting abreast with the cutting-edge revolutionary technology. Thus, the ways in which they would be able to use it will be simply fascinating. 3D printing has reached the active battlefield where a part can be produced on the fly and thus enable a mission success. An aircraft for a small component could be rendered unfit to fly; a tank for a leaking pipeline would be standing still, while a ship in the high seas would have to suffer in want of a part. All these can be obviated by 3D printing where inventory is digital.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">The base workshops of the Indian Army, the Indian Naval Dockyards, and the base repair depots of the Indian Air Force can leapfrog their indigenisation endeavour by ingenuous use of the 3D printing. Each one of them will find adapting this technology to a great advantage. It would accelerate proto-typing, reverse engineering and design process by faster iterations. Ordnance factories could consider starting a 3D printing Centre of Excellence to service the needs of all the factories. It will prove extremely beneficial in various projects at hand and envisage manufacturing, design and obsolescence management of products, which have been out of production. Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, Bharat Electronics Ltd and Bharat Earth Movers Ltd will find it of great use in their day-to-day operations, and even more significant for firefighting activities, where meeting deadlines is at a premium. Overseas, and as much in India, 3D printing labs have come up even in schools! The military fraternity across the echelons in India, will benefit tremendously from 3D printing. The need of the hour to get 3D printing enabled military ecosystem is an imperative!</p><p style="text-align: justify;">According to Tech. Sgt. Eric Lundeen of the USAF, the airmen 3D printed a dozen parts before coming up with a working prototype, said, &ldquo;3D printing is something new. There are only a dozen bases out there with 3D printers.&rdquo; The airmen are planning to send the design to Air Force&rsquo;s technology experts and hope that it will send 3D printers to bases all over the world. &ldquo;This is going to affect every pilot in the Air Force,&rdquo; Lundeen said. &ldquo;It gives them a lot more flexibility and mobility, increases safety and saves a ton of money.&rdquo; Worth noting here is the airman envisioning the need of having a 3D printer in all the USAF bases across the globe! This is going to be the case in the very near future. Indian Air Force will in the near future replicate the idea of having 3D printing at all its bases in India and abroad.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">3D printing has proven extremely valuable for the military medical practitioners. Take the case of a wounded soldier in war or peace, who loses a limb. In order to get the prosthetic, it becomes a challenge to reconstruct the limb. 3D scanned archive of the personnel, which if maintained along with the medical documents of the individual, will come handy. Prosthetics can thus be easily reconstructed. Reconstruction of skin especially for disfigured faces is being achieved through 3D printing. US Army has come up with 3D printed food. They are working at provisioning of nutritional 3D printed food for a war fighter right in the war zone. 3D printing of food will be printed with the balanced mix of nutritional constituents to serve soldiers&rsquo; needs.</p><p style="text-align: justify;"><strong>3D printing task force</strong></p><p style="text-align: justify;">The technology is easy to assimilate and apply. Thus, a pool of trained manpower will be needed. The way forward could be to get a set of personnel trained, who would identify areas suitable for the technology; and get started. Once started, the next step should be to sustain it followed by its growth and expansion.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">Training institutions of the armed forces, defence public sector undertakings and the Ordnance Factory Board will be ideally suited for the introduction of 3D printing by setting up a lab. The training institutions like National Defence Academy, Indian Military Academy, Indian Naval Academy, Air Force Academy and Officers Training Academy will do a great service to the services by incorporating 3D printing in their curriculum. Establishments like College of Combat, Infantry School, Military College of Telecommunication Engineering, College of Military Engineering, Defence Institute of Armament Technology, Military Institute of Technology and the likes can start with acquiring and exploiting the technology. College of Defence Management and College of Air Warfare, if initiate a study of the technology and take up study projects on applications of 3D printing for military purposes; will do a yeoman service for the forces and the nation as well.</p><p style="text-align: justify;"><strong>RIZE Inc</strong></p><p style="text-align: justify;">Andy Kalambi, an American Indian, has made an impact globally, standing as a vanguard of the digital revolution. He is the CEO and President of Rize Inc. Andy Kalambi was nominated as the top innovator of 3D printing in 2018 by IDC (International Data Corporation). Rize Inc. 3D printers have already found its way into the US Army and Navy. Rize Inc. 3D printers are niche, and Industry 4.0 enabled, where one gets full colour spectrum for the products, which can be labelled as well as barcoded. Andy Kalambi has taken an initiative to bring the state-of-the-art 3D printing technology to India.</p><p style="text-align: justify;"><strong>Challenges</strong></p><p style="text-align: justify;">The 3D printing technology integration has its inherent challenges; the biggest is to be aware of it. Trained manpower availability is another challenge. Design and development of a prototype or a reverse engineered 3D printed part will need different certifications. The stringent aerospace quality certifications will call for material certifications, design validation as well as the printed part to undergo functional tests for operational use validation. The process is daunting especially for aerospace applications. A hurdle will be when one looks at the cost factor and compare with the conventional processes. This will be a vital consideration for commercial organisations, but for military, the operational needs take precedence over the rest. The designers, military personnel, along with certification agencies, i.e., DGQA, DGAQA, CEMILAC need to jointly make an endeavour towards making the forces march towards Make In India, leading to self-reliance by harnessing the vast potential of the 3D printing technology. Indian armed forces will stand to gain with bringing on board 3D printing technology, which can be used by any one irrespective of his/her qualifications or experience. It will serve as a boon to the indigenisation group across the three services and R&amp;D fraternity.</p><p style="text-align: justify;"><strong>Conclusion</strong></p><p style="text-align: justify;">The applications of 3D printing for the military will be limited only to the limits of the imagination of the one using it! It has the potential to impact every nook and corner of the fighting forces, be it operations, maintenance, research &amp; development, indigenisation, education, training, obsolescence management, food, clothing, transportation, packaging, medical &amp; dental health care, or any which could be thought out.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">It is the right time, where the services initiate a beginning of forming a digital inventory to be judiciously carved out of the physical inventory in vogue, in existence since time immemorial. Let 3D printing enable and enhance the operational readiness and effectiveness of the Indian fighting forces. Last but not certainly the least, all the above on 3D printing is as apt and applicable to the police forces, central armed police forces, intelligence agencies and special forces pan India. The 3D printing is a force behind the forces!</p><p style="text-align: justify;">&nbsp;</p>
KR Expert - Ashok Kumar Singh