3D printing in defense and military technology

One of the interesting tools for development and manufacturing that EXCALIBUR ARMY has at its disposal is 3D technology, which we have been using for the past three years. We rely on 3D printing for prototyping, production of functional components for new equipment, as well as for manufacturing spare parts for older machinery. The advantage of printed components over traditional ones is their fast production.

Currently, our development center is equipped with STRATASYS F120 and FORTUS 450 mc 3D printers. These printers are easy to use and allow for the management and monitoring of printing tasks from the comfort of an office. They are dual extrusion printers, meaning the first nozzle prints support material for the product, while the second nozzle prints the actual product. The software can modify supports for their easy removal or material savings, or change the designed paths of the print head to achieve specific product properties.

The temperature of the print chambers ranges from 70°C to 200°C, depending on the type of printed material. Both printers use modeling materials such as ASA and ABS-M30, and FORTUS additionally uses polycarbonates and ULTEM, a self-extinguishing material used, among other things, in the aerospace industry. The parts are created with a precision of ± 0.09 mm or ± 0.0015 mm/mm (the final precision depends on the geometry of the part), and the printing time is determined by the nozzle thickness and the size of the product. The simplest prints are made within hours, while more complex ones take days. Parts of larger size, such as instrument panels for artillery systems, are manufactured in cooperation using powder methods to achieve the desired surface type. The average printed material volume is tens of kilograms per month, depending on the order volume.

All prints are tested, for example, when applying a cover to lights, we examine how it behaves in various shooting directions. Instead of relying solely on simulations, we test in a real environment. Before each real-world testing, we use MKP analysis, which is a methodology for testing components in a digital environment. The results from real-world testing are then analyzed and implemented into the development of the next 3D printed part. Our ambition is to have materials at the level of protection that we commonly use, primarily ballistic protection according to STANAG 4569 levels 1-4 and mine protection levels 2a/2b-3a/3b. Therefore, the components used must be unquestionably durable in all directions.

Among the practical prints, we can mention the handle for the Patriot combat vehicle with integrated control of heavy ballistic doors or covers for metal door handles used for protection and operator comfort in extremely high or low temperatures. For example, prints of door covers are used in the serial production of RM-70 8x8 rocket launchers.

As part of projects by the Czech Republic's technological agency, we have been contributing to the development of new materials for years, which have an impact not only on our military production but also pave the way for new ways of protecting our national critical infrastructure and improving the equipment of emergency services. The next decade will be a significant step for 3D printing in the defense industry, with an expected increase in production by several percent.