US Marines test adaptable 3D printed SUAS drones

Oct 4, 2017 | By Tess

The U.S. military is a big proponent of 3D printing technologies, consistently exploring new applications for the technology in order to develop improved devices and equipment and also for on-the-ground manufacturing.

One of the main uses for 3D printing in the military at the moment is the manufacturing of bespoke drones. Earlier this week, for instance, we wrote about how a Marines task force was building 3D printed “Nibbler” drones in the Middle East using an experimental 3D printing lab.

Now, marines from the 2nd Marine Division are using 3D printing to manufacture small unmanned aerial systems (SUAS). This particular drone project is taking place at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

The 3D printed SUAS initiative has relied on the varied expertise of the Marines division. As the Marines website states: “The technicians and engineers with U.S. Army Research Lab gathered Marines from different military occupational specialties to demonstrate the usefulness and convenience of the additive manufactured small unmanned aerial systems.”

The best part about the 3D printed SUAS drones, and the thing that sets them apart from their traditionally manufactured counterparts, is that they can be adapted and modified for particular applications. For instance, if they are to be used for surveillance missions, they might have different components than a drone used for an intelligence mission.

Eric Spero, a team leader in the vehicle technology directorate of the U.S. Army Research Lab, explained: “We have different cameras such as infrared and a day camera; there are different things we can do like stream the video to systems or a heads-up display and record it for later viewing.”

Another benefit of 3D printing the SUAS is that the technology allows them to be produced much more quickly and in an on-demand fashion, meaning that soldiers in the field could potentially manufacture drones as needed and for various uses.

In fact, the process for manufacturing the SUAS seems remarkably simple, as a catalogue of different 3D printable drone parts has been established. This system allows military members to simply choose the SUAS that their mission requires and have the 3D files downloaded to be sent to the printer.

“Basically what we are doing is combining two emerging technologies,” commented John Gerdes, a mechanical engineer at the U.S. Army Research Lab. “We have taken 3D printing and quadcopters and created a means of giving troops a customized vehicle right when they need it, with the capabilities they need from it, on demand.”

(Images: U.S. Marine Corps / Taylor W. Cooper)

Impressively, a SUAS can reportedly be 3D printed, assembled, and dispatched within a 24-hour period. “These craft are the future because they’re protected by obsolescence,” added Gerdes. “We are able to give troops the technology almost immediately by printing new parts and making slight adjustments so they will always have a craft that is able to complete the mission.”

The 3D printed SUAS drones were recently tested by the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune.

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US Marines' 'Ripper Lab' used to manufacture 3D printed 'Nibbler' drones in Middle East

Oct 2, 2017 | By Tess

A U.S. Marine Corps task force has set up a 3D printing lab on the ground in the Middle East, using it to 3D print quadcopter drones, tools, medical supplies, and more. Dubbed the “Ripper Lab,” the facility is allowing the task force to print devices and replacement parts on-demand and at a lower cost than shipping them in.

Over the past year, the U.S. Marine Corps has made significant strides with the adoption of additive manufacturing technologies, developing 3D printed components for future smart trucks, experimenting with 3D printed munitions, and perhaps most significantly, manufacturing low-cost drones.

Just months ago, a Marine Corps battalion evaluated the X-FAB system—a self-contained, mobile additive manufacturing lab which consists of four 3D printers, one 3D scanner, and CAD software. The X-FAB lab, which is still in development, would enable devices such as surveillance drones to be produced on-demand and, importantly, on the ground.

As another Marine Corps task force based in the Middle East has shown, 3D printing is already in use and is proving to be a critical technology in the fight against ISIS.

The Marines of Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Central Command recently established an on-the-ground 3D printing facility equipped with 3D printers, materials, CAD software, etc. in the Middle East.

Named “Ripper Lab,” the 3D printing test operation was set up to see how well 3D printing could support the troops. A first of its kind, the 3D printer lab is operated by a team of 48 and has been used to manufacture tools such as wrenches, medical supplies, various replacement parts, and a number of quadcopter drones known as “Nibblers.”

These 3D printed drones, of which there are already about 25, are designed for increasing “situational awareness” on patrols. The adaptable UAVs are capable of flying for 20 to 25 minutes at a time, and can be used to monitor and protect the U.S. military’s positions from drones sent by the enemy.

Of course, there are still a few setbacks with the technology. For one, the Nibbler drones cost about $2,000 each to 3D print, quite a bit more than their off-the-shelf counterparts (which reportedly go for about $500 apiece). But the cost difference doesn’t seem to outweigh the advantages of in-situ manufacturing and the easy and cheap production of replacement parts.

(Images: U.S. Marine Corps)

“Across the entire Marine Corps… it takes time to get the training and then the resources, i.e., money to buy the materials and 3D printers and things like that,” said  Col. Bill Vivian, the commander of the 7th Marine Regiment which led the 3D printing operation. “But 3D printers are coming to each installation in the Marine Corps and that’s starting to unfold now, so I think those possibilities are getting close.”

Vivian added that since 3D printing has been adopted in the Marine Corps, he has seen a lot of interest amongst the troops: “Since we engaged and we let Marines at the lowest level know we’re wrestling with this new technology, we found out a lot of them were doing it anyway—several Marines had their own 3D printers. And so just taking advantage of natural talents we have out there, we were able to pull them in and use them to our advantage. It helped retention: Marines were very excited and we were able to do some things faster than we otherwise would have been able to.”

Currently, Vivian and his task force are working on improving the 3D printed Nibbler drone by integrating higher-quality cameras and increasing the vehicle’s flying time and range.

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Idaho National Lab's 'AMAFT' makes 3D printed nuclear fuel that reduces risk of meltdown

Sep 21, 2017 | By Benedict

Researchers at Idaho National Laboratory (INL) are using 3D printing in a new method for producing advanced nuclear fuels. Producing U3Si2 fuels with Additive Manufacturing as an Alternative Fabrication Technique (AMAFT) could improve both fuel cycle economics and safety.

Unlike coal power (loathed by most) and green energy (approved of by most), nuclear remains a decidedly divisive form of energy. In principle, it’s an incredibly effective and environmentally friendly solution to our growing energy needs, producing none of the harmful emissions that are crippling the atmosphere in places like China.

It’s just that the “worst case scenario” of nuclear power is, well, the absolute worst, as the world has witnessed multiple times during events like the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. It’s easy to forget that the latter case only happened five years ago.

This apprehension about nuclear power—which also concerns the problem of dumping nuclear waste underground—means that scientists’ efforts to improve the safety of nuclear power are nearly always appreciated by the entire scientific community. New research being carried out at INL looks like it could be the latest example, with scientists claiming a new additive manufacturing technique could improve both the safety and efficiency of nuclear power.

It’s called Additive Manufacturing as an Alternative Fabrication Technique, or AMAFT for short, and it’s a way of producing advanced nuclear fuels like uranium silicide (U3Si2) for nuclear reactors. The method was developed by INL’s Dr Isabella Van Rooyen and Dr Clemente Parga, alongside Ed Lahoda of Westinghouse, a power plant building company.

The researchers developed their new 3D printing technique to work with U3Si2 fuels, believing these substances to offer particular safety benefits due to their density and thermal conductivity—factors in which the fuels trump the uranium dioxide (UO2) fuels used in most nuclear plants.

U3Si2 can improve both the safety and efficiency of a nuclear reactor, and with this new additive manufacturing technique used to produce them, INL is hoping that the fuel could eventually replace the more volatile uranium dioxide (UO2) fuels in power plants the world over. And the technique also offers a number of benefits besides safety.

“AMAFT technology uses a novel hybrid additive manufacturing process, which means we combine some traditional and some additive manufacturing processes to reduce the number of steps—and therefore the time and cost—involved in producing fuel for power reactors,” explained Van Rooyen.

3D printing a Zr3Si2 surrogate material from Zirconium and Silicon powder mixtures

AMAFT consists of a “hybrid laser engineering shaping” process that creates a small melt pool from multiple powder sources. This can be used to form a pellet of dense U3Si2 fuel. Compare this to traditional fuel production techniques, which involve multiple steps, and it’s easy to see how INL’s method could turn heads in the nuclear world.

AMAFT isn’t just faster and safer than other nuclear fuel production options; it’s also highly versatile. The INL researchers say that AMAFT works with any uranium-based feedstock, which could make it suitable for a variety of purposes. This versatility also provides flexibility for fabricators, allowing them to use several raw material sources.

Excitingly, the new 3D printing process for nuclear fuel is already well on the way to commercialization.

This is largely thanks to INL’s involvement with the DOE’s Energy I-Corps initiative, which encourages entrepreneurship at DOE labs by pairing DOE researchers with industry experts, giving the scientists an idea of how to turn their work into a marketable product.

The aforementioned Lahoda, of (currently bankrupt) power plant builder Westinghouse, acted as Van Rooyen and Parga’s mentor.

“It was a surprise to learn how critical partnerships would be to the overall commercialization process,” Van Rooyen said. “We need partners to help with qualification, standards, process development, and characterization. Energy I-Corps was an opportunity to think outside the box from our normal everyday research mindset.”

INL is the fifth-largest employer in Idaho, with 3,900 employees and more than 350 interns.

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Australian Scientists Are Behind The World's First 3D Printed Shin Bone Implant

Image: iStock

Queensland University of Technology research and technology is behind the first ever 3D-printed shin bone implant.

The procedure was performed on a Gold Coast man who lost bone lost through an infection.

QUT’s Distinguished Professor Dietmar W Hutmacher is director of the ARC Industrial Transformation Training Centre in Additive Biomanufacturing that is at the frontier of 3D printing in medicine.

“Additive Biomanufacturing is an emerging sector within Advanced Manufacturing and the technology allows us to 3D print scaffolds, customised to the patient, which are then slowly resorbed by the body and guide the new bone formation,” Professor Hutmacher said.

QUT’s research team, including Dr Marie-Luise Wille, Dr Nathan Castro and PhD student Sebastien Eggert, worked closely with Dr Michael Wagels, the Princess Alexandra plastic surgeon who performed the surgery.

The team firstly developed a computer model, 3D printed a series of physical models of the large bone defect from CT scans of the patient’s tibia bone, and then designed a patient-specific implant – in the form of a highly porous scaffold which will guide the regeneration of the new bone.

The QUT team used a 3D printer from the Queensland-based company 3D Industries to print the models. The final scaffold design was sent to Osteopore International, who have been making biodegradable scaffolds for ten years now.

And this is just the beginning for QUT’s 3D printing endeavors.

Professor Hutmacher and Dr Wagels have started an innovative PhD training program which is partially funded by the PA Research Foundation in which young surgeons are trained and perform cutting-edge research in 3D printing in medicine to meet Australia’s need to build capacity in key areas of economic importance.

“Next to the ambition to deliver outstanding fundamental science and engineering, from a business and human capital perspective, my vision for the ARC ITCC in Additive Biomanufacturing is to deliver an exceptionally talented group of entrepreneurs who will start high-impact companies,” he said.

“They will have their roots in globally competitive fundamental and applied STEM research as well as in manufacturing innovation and new medical devices.”

3D Printing on Kickstarter: A Fast Filament Extruder for Less than $1000 and 3D Printed Houses to …

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With deep roots in maker culture, 3D printing endeavors often find themselves turning to crowdfunding, and Kickstarter has been a mainstay in funding new companies, technologies, and projects. We often hear about the latest and greatest 3D printing-related Kickstarter campaigns, whether people are trying to raise money for 3D printing materials, 3D printed or smart products, and even 3D printers themselves.

Speaking of 3D printer crowdfunding campaigns, earlier this summer we took a look at the FDM Obsidian printer, which reached its original funding goal in just three minutes. We heard from Alwyn Hartman this week – the founder and CEO of Protea Design and a friend of the Obsidian team – who recently launched his own Kickstarter campaign.

“I recently launched a filament extruder project on Kickstarter in the $600 range that beats all the competition above and below it in some way or another, but mainly speed vs. machine cost,” Hartman told “I call it the DNA Extruder machine because without filament there is no fdm 3D printing, conversely without DNA there is no life.”

Tokyo-based Protea Design specializes in product design, and has created a filament extruder that, in the company’s words, “blows the competition out of water in every category.” The company was looking for a filament extruder that would be able to fill all of its needs and was coming up short – they were all either too slow, too expensive, or too inefficient.

“The search for a filament extruder was triggered by our need to recycle failed prints and prototypes of products we were involved in designing,” Hartman explained. “We wanted to reduce the waste brought on by constant design changes during the prototyping phase of various projects, and at the same time reduce our expenses.”

Filament extruders that offer faster extrusion speeds typically cost more, and the Protea Design team has spent the last few years developing the DNA Extruder.

“We worked tirelessly to bridge together the speed and price gap that has existed in filament extrusion for years,” the Protea Design team wrote. “With the DNA Extruder we have finally achieved our goal and much more.”

The DNA Extruder, which comes in a unibody shell, is capable of extruding one full roll of filament in an hour, and Protea says that it’s the fastest extruder currently available that costs less than $1,000, thanks to its thermoplastic extrusion screw and barrel design. This combination also allowed Protea to reduce the machine’s overall size, and the specific thermoplastic extrusion improves mechanical operation through a direct motor connection and helps to promote higher pumping pressure to extract air and water vapor from the filament.

The device can reach a maximum temperature of 250°C, so you’re able to extrude most common 3D printing materials, like ABS and PLA. The DNA Extruder is supported by an easy-to-use PID controller and an internationally compatible power supply, and it has a hopper that can hold 1 kg of pellets. Each one comes function tested and pre-assembled, based on customer specifications, and there are plenty of early bird rewards still left on Kickstarter – $600 gets you the DNA Extruder, a pack of six different nozzles, and your choice of 1 kg of either ABS or AP-73 pellets.

Check out the video below to learn more, though you should note that Protea Design has decided to not continue seeking a patent for its screw and barrel design or the DNA Extruder itself. Please disregard that part of the video, as the team will release the design information as open source, following a successful Kickstarter campaign. They are on their way to their $60,000 goal with 24 days left in the campaign.

Kickstarter campaign that was recently launched by prototyping company Local Makers in Amsterdam offers a good gift idea for someone who might be feeling homesick. The company, which also sells 3D printers, is offering adorable 3D printed copies of people’s homes.

“The main idea of the project is to offer people who pledge for the project their own houses in a 3D printed mini version,” Diana Luchin, the Social Media Manager for Local Makers, told “Each 3D printed house will be hand-painted in the style of the Delft Blue Houses.”

The two-day process is simple. Once the company’s designers receive a home address to enter into Google Street View, or 2-3 photos of the house (this second option is preferred), they will construct a 3D model of your house. The model is 3D printed, using PLA, on Ultimaker 3D printers, and then sanded and hand-painted, in the Delft Blue style.

There are two available house sizes: the smaller version runs 6 to 9 cm, while the slightly larger option is 10 to 13 cm. The roof will be painted blue, and the details of each house will only be designed and painted on the front and sides of each house, though there are limitations to details the designers can create.

With just 12 days left in the Kickstarter campaign, Local Makers is just halfway over its €8,500 funding goal. There are still plenty of early bird specials left: an €85 pledge will get you the smaller 3D printed version of your house, while a pledge of €120 will get you the larger version.

Robot with 3D Printed Flippers Helps to Solve a Plesiosaur Puzzle

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Plesiosaur [Image: Dinosaur Jungle]

Over 200 million years ago, during the Triassic period, plesiosaurs first appeared in the ocean. The swimming, flippered reptiles lived for several million years, until the mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs, but like their land-dwelling counterparts, plesiosaurs are still a source of fascination for scientists and prehistoric-animal enthusiasts. These particular reptiles present a particular challenge for scientists, however, because until now, no one has been able to figure out quite how plesiosaurs managed to swim. Most flippered animals have two distinct sets of flippers: the ones in the front are designed to produce thrust, while the flippers in the back are used for steering.

Fossils, however, have shown that the plesiosaur had four nearly identical flippers, which means that however the plesiosaur got around, it was quite different than any other flippered animal, according to experts. It’s been unclear how exactly plesiosaur mobility worked, but thanks to a robot with 3D printed flippers, researchers at the University of Southampton and the University of Bristol may have finally figured it out.

PhD student Luke Muscutt led a team of researchers who constructed a robot and attached 3D printed flippers, designed based on plesiosaur fossils. They also used X-rays of currently existing flippered animals to determine what kinds of movements the robot would need to make.The team then ran a set of experiments on their simulated plesiosaur in a water tank.

Colored water shows the vortices produced by the 3D printed flippers

If the plesiosaur’s method of mobility was ineffective, the species would have either evolved or gone extinct much sooner, so scientists studying the reptile have been aware that their flippers did work well – the question has been how. Experimenting with the robot in the water tank, Muscutt and his team made an interesting discovery: the front flippers created swirling movements in the water, which increased the thrust of the back flippers by up to 60 percent and their efficiency by up to 40 percent when both sets of flippers worked together as opposed to when they moved independently. This indicated that all four flippers were used to propel the plesiosaur through the water, which differs from the movement of, for example, a turtle. The experiments also showed exactly how the flippers would need to have moved in relation to each other in order to create the most effective propulsion.

[Image: Muscutt et al/Royal Society Publishing]

“Fossils by themselves don’t tell us much about how plesiosaurs actually moved. Short of genetically engineering a plesiosaur, our best available option was to create a robot to show how it might have happened,” said Muscutt. “The results were amazing and indicate why plesiosaurs were such a successful species, retaining four flippers for more than 100 million years. If this wasn’t the case, it’s unlikely the four-flipper system would have been maintained for so long.”

Muscutt plans to further his studies by examining different types of plesiosaurs and how their movements may have differed from each other. He’s also interested in how the motion system of the plesiosaur could be adapted for modern applications, such as submarines.

“Understanding how an animal might have moved gives us a better understanding of the animal as a whole – for instance, how far it can travel, what animals it can predate on, and what it might have fallen prey to,” he said. “Our observations of tandem flipper systems such as the plesiosaur’s might also eventually have a real-world application – as a propulsion system for undersea vehicles, for instance, that could help make them more manoeuvrable, efficient and quieter.”

The research was documented in a paper entitled “The four-flipper swimming method of plesiosaurs enabled efficient and effective locomotion,” which you can read here. Authors include Luke E. Muscutt, Gareth Dyke, Gabriel D. Weymouth, Darren Naish, Colin Palmer, and Bharathram Ganapathisubramani.

[Source: University of Southampton]

This magical 3D printed dish reveals an image when you pour soy sauce into it

Sep 2, 2017 | By Tess

A Japanese programmer who goes by the Twitter handle “nue” has created a 3D printed dish that reveals a stunning image when soy sauce is poured into it.

When it comes to merchandising, it takes a lot to impress us, especially when franchises such as Star Wars pull out all the stops for their products. Sometimes, however, it’s not the official merchandise that is the most exciting, but what fans create themselves with 3D design and printing—this 3D printed Hodor doorstop for instance. Recently, we were blown away by another piece of unofficial 3D printed merchandise created by Japanese Twitter user “nue”: a 3D printed soy sauce dish that reveals an anime character when soy sauce is poured in.

It’s the type of thing you really have to see to believe, and we can imagine that it took the maker a long time to design and perfect. As you can see in the photo, when filled, the 3D printed dish reveals a stunningly clear image of an anime character, specifically Darjeeling from the anime series Girls und Panzer. The series, for those unfamiliar with recent anime, centered on a girl’s high school tank warfare competition (intriguing, right?).

To make the dish, nue first had to digitally design an image of Darjeeling and then carefully applied different depths to the 3D model. Essentially, the different colors that appear when soy sauce is poured into the dish occur from varying depths of the condiment—the deeper the section, the darker the color. And while the concept seems relatively simple, we can imagine figuring out how deep to print certain grooves for a high contrast was quite a challenging and specific task.

For instance, looking at the outline of the hair, as well as the highlights on the hair and eyes, it is clear that nue was not prepared to sacrifice any detail for the Girls und Panzer soy sauce dish. Based off the photo, it truly looks like a sepia render of the anime character’s face, and not like something you could dip a piece of sushi into.

If you’re inspired by nue’s work, you can always take a look at the maker’s 3D models and design diagrams for the 3D printed dish. We can only imagine how long it will take for other makers to step up to the challenge and create condiment receptacles that reveal their own favorite characters or even hidden messages. Just imagine sitting down to a lunch, pouring sauce in your dish only to find Jon Snow looking back at you!

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