The Australian Army has proven it is possible to 3D print and replace armoured vehicle parts in the field, using technology developed by Australian company SPEE3D.

Various parts for the M113 Armoured Personnel Carrier were replaced with metal parts manufactured on site during Exercise Koolendong, an annual bilateral military exercise between the Australian Army and the Marine Rotational Force – Darwin. Parts were identified, 3D printed, certified and then subsequently installed on vehicles

The Australian Army is rapidly developing its metal manufacturing capability with SPEE3D’s award-winning metal 3D printing technology. The company’s WarpSPEE3D Tactical Printer uses patented cold-spray technology that enables significantly faster and more cost-effective metal part production than any other process. It can print large metal parts up to 40kg at a record rate of 100g per minute.

SPEE3D has been working closely with the Australian Army and Royal Australian Navy to bring this capability to the Australian Defence Force with world-first field trials designed to test the feasibility of deploying metal 3D printing as a capability, both in barracks and in the field. A number of field trials in 2020 resulted in more than 50 case studies of printable parts and demonstrated that SPEE3D’s WarpSPEE3D printer was robust enough to operate in remote Australian bushland. The program was extended in 2021 to verify initial results.

In 2021 SPEE3D has been helping train the Australian Army’s first military Additive Manufacturing Cell (AMC) technicians who specialise in the production of metal 3D printed parts, from design, printing, machining, heat-treatment, through to certification. In the remote bushland of Bradshaw Training Area in the Northern Territory, the AMC and SPEE3D recently tested the WarpSPEE3D Tactical Printer as part of its toughest trial yet. The printer was transported in a round trip over 1,200km, over rough terrain, to operate in hot and dusty conditions for three weeks

During the trial the AMC produced more than a dozen different replacement parts for the M113 Armoured Personnel Carrier, a vehicle that has been used by the Australian Army for more than 40 years. The trial aimed to prove metal 3D printing can produce high-quality, military-grade parts that can be validated and certified for use in the field. One of the parts produced was an M113 wheel bearing cover, a part which is often damaged by trees when driven through bushland. The two-kilogram wheel bearing cover was printed in just 29 minutes at a print cost of US$100. The team were able to 3D print, heat treat, machine, test and validate the parts in the field as well as redesign and fortify some parts, reducing the risk of future damage.

SPEE3D’s CEO Byron Kennedy commented: “This is a great example of how expeditionary metal 3D printing can improve Defence readiness. Field trials conducted in 2020 proved SPEE3D technology was deployable. This year’s trial extension was bigger, longer, and more remote, making it the worlds’ toughest and longest metal 3D printing trial so far.”

The trial’s success demonstrates that additive manufacturing can play an important part in the future of Defence readiness. The AMC will explore more components that can be repaired using metal 3D printing as an alternate solution, having parts at the ready in the field.