In recent article, researchers at the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey talked about exploring the possibilities of 3D printing electronics and even weapon components.
As researchers at Picatinny Arsenal explore the potential of 3-dimensional printing, they envision the potential to embed a radio antenna on the side of a Soldier's helmet, or print sensors directly onto a weapon or even an article of clothing.
The printers work by using lasers or another heat source to meld gypsum, metal powders, plastic filaments or other materials "built" layer-by-layer to create tangible 3D objects.
At the forefront of 3D research is electronic printing -- using an ink-jet printer to print electronics, such as munitions antennas, fuze elements and batteries. Inks that can conduct electric current, such as silver, are printed in layers onto a film surface, creating conductors, semiconductors or resistors.
This process allows engineers to potentially print sensors directly onto a weapon or an article of clothing. For instance, a radio antenna made of silver nanoparticles printed onto a flexible polyimide substrate could be embedded into a Soldier's helmet, replacing the antenna that currently attaches to the headgear. Or, electronics could be printed on the side of artillery, freeing up space inside the round.
The electronics could also be outfitted with reactive sensors, such as sensors that change properties in the presence of anthrax to detect and warn of the chemical's presence.
One reason 3D printing has so much potential is because it is extremely efficient. Items can be printed in a matter of minutes or hours depending on the complexity of the design. This makes it ideal for prototyping and low-rate production.
In the near future, Picatinny scientists hope they will be able to print and assemble entire weapon systems in one manufacturing cube. For example, an entire claymore mine could be printed and assembled in one machine by using various tools and printing processes.
it would also be beneficial for deployed Soldiers to have 3D scanners to scan a broken part, then send engineers the file from which engineers could make a new one.