It is no secret that all branches of the United States military have been keeping a close eye on 3D printing technology. With the variety of uses across all industries, 3D printing has proven its versatility. Besides the ongoing research in a number of directions, such as 3D printing of replacement bones, battle armor, and vehicle parts, the Navy has already successfully tested ballistic missiles containing 3D printed components.
According to Business Insider, new interest is being shown in the field recently, as many patents on the original technology are expiring, thereby allowing for competition that will result in better quality products at a much lower cost. The first major patents expired in 2009 allowing new printers capable of using metal, wood, and fabric to become more available.
The US military is already investing heavily into research to print uniforms, synthetic skin and food, said ISH Technology analyst Alex Chausovsky.
Being able to take printers to a warzone promises a radical shake-up of combat and the defense industry, says Peter W Singer, an expert in future warfare at the New America Foundation.
"Defense contractors want to sell you an item but also want to own the supply chain for 50 years, but now you'll have soldiers in an austere outpost in somewhere like Afghanistan who can pull down the software for a spare part, tweak the design and print it out."
At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, scientists have already invented "4D printing," creating materials that change when they come in contact with elements like water. This technology could even result in uniforms that change color to match their environment.
Last year, British defense firm BAE put the first printed metal part in a Tornado jet fighter. According to 3Dprint.com, their research also includes a 3D printer mounted on board an aircraft, capable of printing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) like drones or similar craft. These would then be deployed into combat areas to perform whatever function may be required without endangering the lives of crew. These UAVs could then return with information on equipment or supplies that are needed, and a 3D printer on the aircraft could then oblige by manufacturing the articles.