USMC Tests 3-D Printed Projectiles

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As I wait for a ATF Form 3 to clear on the Delta P Design Brevis 3-D printed suppressor that I will review here at TFB, I came across a story on Military.com that piqued my interest. “Additive Manufacturing” commonly referred to as 3-D printing, is the process of precisely adding material(s) using a computer controlled triaxial machine.

In the article, the Marines explain that having the ability to craft munitions depending on mission specifics using additive manufacturing can save time and money. They also explain that a handful of units deploy with 3-D printers that have the ability to make replacement parts.

Personally, I think 3-D printed technology is the future of manufacturing processes – and not just for firearms. While obviously more advanced, I’m reminded of all those times where Jean Luc Picard would press button on his replicator and ask for ‘tea, Earl Grey, hot”.

Marines Conducting Tests with 3-D Printed Munitions – Military.com

QUANTICO, Virginia — Last week, the Marine Corps’ Next-Generation Logistics office quietly printed, and then detonated, an indirect fire munition at Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head, Maryland, in collaboration with the center.

Capt. Chris Wood, the co-lead for 3-D printing for Deputy Commandant of Installations and Logistics Lt. Gen. Michael Dana, declined to specify which indirect fire system was employed in the experiment, but said this test, the first of its kind for the Marine Corps, revealed a promising result.

The munition, he said, proved more lethal than traditionally manufactured munitions. And testing showed it could be developed to further improve lethality or otherwise tailor the system to the mission. In future, data suggest, Marines could wield weapons that are safer to use and more surgical in their impact, thanks to this new production method.

“One of the benefits of being able to precisely control the way that a munition or warhead is ‘grown’ through [additive manufacturing] is that we think we’ll be able to tailor the blast and associated fragmentation to achieve specific effects for particular targets, heights, collateral damage, or even environmental considerations,” Wood said. “Some of this can be done currently with very expensive, hand-made munitions, but [additive manufacturing] allows us to do it better, faster and likely cheaper.”

And tailoring munitions is just one line of effort for the office known as NexLog, created to explore the impact of emerging technologies on Marine Corps logistics. Technologies such as additive manufacturing or 3-D printing, which can be cost-prohibitive for major part production, need more testing and evaluation before they could be incorporated into the larger supply chain.

“General Dana’s insight was, most of my capabilities development takes 10 to 20 years,” said Wood, who spoke to Military.com here Wednesday at the Modern Day Marine expo. “So if I don’t start my experimentation and my advocacy for those things now, I’m not going to be able to really capitalize on what they can offer when they mature. We are fully aware that it’s expensive, and it’s not as mature as we want, but that’s exactly why we think now is the perfect time to strike so we can figure out this very protracted capabilities development process.”

For the Marine Corps, which has more than one aging vehicle model reaching the limits of its service life, 3-D printing can be a cost-effective way to manufacture parts no longer in production. Sometimes, Wood said, it’s the only way. He cited the Marines’ light armored vehicle, which is now expected to remain in service until 2035 — more than three decades beyond its planned service life.

“Where production has been done for 20, 30 years, and they don’t even assign [national service numbers] to some of these parts because they don’t expect them to ever be replaced because they don’t plan for that piece of equipment to go beyond that life cycle,” Wood said. “That presents a huge challenge for program officers.”

Another key use for the technology is in-field production — a use well-suited to lower-cost polymer printers that might create temporary replacement parts for broken gear in order to extend mission effectiveness, even if only by a few hours.

“Rather than using duct tape and coat hangers and gum and all these other things, which literally occurs in the battlefield, we have this new design tool we can use,” Wood said.

Fixes like these are already taking place within the fleet. Some 10 Marine Corps units are now equipped with 3-D printers, Wood said. Most are maintenance battalions, but several Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command units and infantry and intelligence units are also equipped with the capability, he said.

While no units are manufacturing mission-critical parts, a more costly process and one that requires greater evaluation and scrutiny, polymer part production is proving to save time and cost. Marines printed a small plastic radio crypto key for roughly $2 that would have cost more than $70 to purchase, Wood said.

And Marine Corps leadership is urging non-aviation unit commanders to take advantage of this existing capability.

A Marine Corps administrative message released this month provided guidance for commanders at the rank of lieutenant colonel and above to commission 3-D printed replacements for non-critical equipment parts that are obsolete and don’t require a data rights clearance prior to reproduction. The guidance also lays out a path for commanders to work through Marine Corps Systems Command to commission other 3-D printed materials.

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“7.62, steel case, loaded hot”



Pete

LE – Science – OSINT.
On a mission to make all of my guns as quiet as possible.
Pete.M@staff.thefirearmblog.com


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  • Thomas S

    3-D printing is the future of manufacturing to pretty much all complex objects. The ability to produce highly complex designs (many that aren’t possible with traditional manufacturing) on equipment that takes far less space and manpower than current equipment, well it is the way of things to come.

    • iksnilol

      yeah, but bullets don’t seem hightech enough to warrant its use. Besides, they need to be produced fast.

      • B-Sabre

        From the article, it sounded like a grenade or mortar shell, since it was an “indirect fire” round that exploded on impact.
        That said, rounds like the M855A1 are getting fairly complex internally (with a penetrator and follower) compared to traditional ammo, so a bullet designed to take into account the abilities for 3D printing to improve effectiveness is possible. I don’t see 3D printed bullets being commonplace for small arms ammo for awhile due mostly to the volumes of ammunition required (millions of rounds).

        • SimonSays

          From the article I was considering a type of claymore. It is fairly easy to 3d print a wafer of fragmentable pellets and just drop some c4 behind it.

          If they manufactured a mortar shell including impact/timed fuse that would be miraculous, we will have to wait for more information.

          • B-Sabre

            I don’t consider a mine an “indirect fire” munition, so I didn’t consider that. I know the Army looked at “printing” a mine in their 3D manufacturing lab (case, frag liner, explosives) but used a standard detonator. Likewise, you could “print” a mortar round shell and explosive load and then attach an existing fuse to the tip.

          • Mystick

            They are called aerial mines… ironically, one type was used against US helicopters in Iraq and Afghanistan…

            that being said, I don’t think 3D printing is reliable enough, nor efficient enough for actual production. It’s great for prototyping, but a mass producer it is not, nor will it ever be.

          • Ron

            I think you are referring to anti-helicopter mines, aerial mines are land or sea mines delivered via the air.

          • Thomas S

            And yet there are several manufacturing facilities by companies like Boeing that are running almost nothing but industrial scale 3D printers for manufacturing purposes.

            Two or 3 years ago I would have agreed with you, these days printed parts are popping up all over the place. Right now it is still mostly limited to manufacturers of high end components for everything from cars and aircraft (ferrari and boeing) to firms that make specialized equipment/parts to order based on customer spec.

            Hell even saw some stuff a few weeks back about a factory in Iowa or some such that was planning on moving to almost all 3D printing for their manufacturing processes in making off the shelf auto parts in the next couple of years.

          • Mystick

            None of those are “mass” production applications, though. We are talking maybe – at most – 100 a week, not thousands an hour. It CANNOT match current production efficiency and the materials are very limited.

          • Thomas S

            Fistly it depends on what you are talking about. In the applications that places like Boeing is using them they are doing so because it is faster and more repeatable than the “current” methods.

            Just a few years ago 3D printing was between a novelty and a useful prototyping tool capable of working only in basic plastics. People claimed that you couldn’t use it for metal because it would be too inconsistent and require far too much cleanup on each part.

            Someone figured it out. Just the list of materials that can be 3D printed that I know about not only include things like ABS, acrylics, nylon, epoxy, glass reinforced polymers and polycarb but also include platinum, silver gold, steel, aluminum, titanium and some ceramics. That doesn’t even touch on the crazy stuff like medical applications where they are starting to print tissue grafts and heart valves.

            Most anything that is produced at a rate of thousands an hour is already a fairly simple component. There is no need to 3D print it and I don’t think that was ever the argument. You said that 3D printing basically wasn’t useful in production. That is incorrect. You also assume that it will never be useful in mass production. Yet there are more and more major manufacturers looking at incorporating 3D printing in their manufacturing processes. You say “never”, I say “meh, give it 20 years”.

          • James B.

            If the idea was to modulate the blast effect or frag pattern on a grenade, mortar shell, claymore, you name it, the casing and explosives are the custom part, and the rest (fuze, etc) would just be standard parts, fit into standard fuzewells and other attachment points.

        • gunsandrockets

          Hmm… 3d printed bullets sounds like a promising method for producing the squeeze-bore rifle bullets I’ve suggested for a next-generation military cartridge.

        • Wolf Angel

          In the field the requirement is far fewer rounds at the unit level. There are printers that can print dozens or even hundreds of parts simultaneously, such as laser sintered parts, or resin printers, at a severe speed advantage per part. Filament printers don’t gain as much as much of the time used is laying the filament, while the former much of the time is moving the stage, which if say 300 units of whatever were on it, becomes reasonable in the field. But likely they are talking more complex munitions where variants exist with subtle differences, or per mission parameters weren’t originally loaded out.

          I am more amused at thinking about extruding an explosive similar to C4 or TNT, into specific charge shapes. Then putting them into 3D printed metallic shells. Carry a variety of standard detonators. And, then, you have customizable munitions. Maybe even custom fuze parts that tailor the otherwise ubiquitous part to a specialized use. Like like a change from timed airburst to a penetration munition.

          Just takes imagination to see between the lines, or maybe draw a few more the Marines haven’t thought of. (Available for consulting btw)

      • roguetechie

        Iksni,

        They printed some sort of munitions, not a dumb projectile. Considering that many explosive fillers are kinda plastic like it’s a good fit for this.

        However your talking about printing actual bullets has reminded me of a couple open source efforts I’ve followed for fairly novel and unconventional printing and other desktop fabrication processes that might actually be adaptable into a pretty wicked little desktop bullet printer.

        Thanks for jogging my thought process on this.

        If I get rich off revolutionizing the reloading industry I’ll send you a post card. Haha

      • Thomas S

        It was an indirect fire projectile so artillery, mortar or grenade. They probably designed the shell to better direct the explosive energy or possibly an interesting fragmentation style casing that is more effective.

        Why there is a photo of rifle ammunition I have no idea.

        • iksnilol

          Probably to weed out the folks who didn’t read the article.

          IE me.

  • GD Ajax

    3D printed bullets won’t be any were decent until a non metal like Carbon Nanotubes or graphene becomes cheap to mass produce.

    • roguetechie

      That day is coming fast / kinda already here.

      Keep in mind that 3d printing encompasses much more than just the rep raps and ultimakers slinging Fused Deposition Modeling of ABS and PLA plastic.

      There’s all sorts of different technologies and materials being worked with, including some very cool technologies that can not only print new metal objects in your alloy of choice, but can also fix very sophisticated and expensive already existing parts.

      There’s even some technologies that popped up briefly in the white world and then have suddenly went, if not black, very dark gray (cold spray I’m looking at you).

      The stuff they’re doing with metals, composites, and much more is pretty amazing. Some of the stuff being done would be flat out impossible with normal manufacturing techniques.

      This doesn’t even get into hybrid manufacturing, bio printing, or other stuff that would have been so exotic and specialist even 5 years ago that only a couple labs on earth could do it.

      The brave new world is already here my friend but as usual the revolution was not televized.

      • Patriot Gunner

        Everybody wants there to be a revolution in the firearms world, but they can’t accept the fact that maybe we have reached some level of perfection (most of the mass produced stuff is “good enough”, but still room for improvement on the premium end). Brass and lead are still king and will be for the foreseeable future. Look at the LSAT carbine, it weighs 9.7 pounds and has a 20 round capacity, not very impressive and definitely not the quantum leap forward that it was hyped up to be. I think the real innovation will come in the manufacturing of already existing designs but with even higher volumes and tighter tolerances. And in terms of the firearms themselves, the real innovation will be in the optics, drastically reducing the learning curve for long range precision and increasing hit probability. Everybody is looking for that next quantum leap, but there is nothing wrong with incremental improvement.

        • lostintranslation

          PG……agree
          “And in terms of the firearms themselves, the real innovation will be in the optics, drastically reducing the learning curve for long range precision and increasing hit probability.”

          Miniaturised, multi-spectral and low light magnifying optics will, I believe, produce a paradigm shift.

          • Patriot Gunner

            “Miniaturised, multi-spectral and low light magnifying optics will, I believe, produce a paradigm shift.”

            Exactly. The first country to develop and equip every infantrymen with this type of optic will have total domination over the battlefield.

    • Patriot Gunner

      Nanotubes? LOL, yes because taking a bullet weighing 55 grains and producing a bullet of exact dimensions weighing 5 grains is the answer! /sarc

      • GD Ajax

        Carrying more bullets is only a problem to American shooters who are morbidly obese. Looks like you fudged the numbers somewhere on your weak attempt at sarcasm.

        • Patriot Gunner

          ROFL, oh man I am literally rolling on the floor laughing. I guess learning the periodic table of elements in elementary school is only an American thing as well because you see lead is many many many many many orders of magnitude more dense than a carbon nanotube. Also, I guess learning about ballistics is also limited to Americans as well. If you would like to enter a battlefield with 5 grain bullets, be my guest. Natural selection is gotta be good for something.

  • SmugMagaMan

    I just know you first typed “7.62, steel case, hot load” before proof reading.

  • 🐒👊

    So are projectiles for the 5.56 and 7.62 NATO being printed? Sounds like 40mm , SMAW or artillery explodey things.

  • Ed

    Maybe they can make bullets. But lack machines to make use gun powder and right measurements to correctly load right charge. Think this is a waste of time. 3d printing is better for vehicle parts.

    • roguetechie

      It’s far from a waste of time, and really some of the stuff we’ll eventually be able to do using approaches like this will revolutionize bullet construction.

      • Patriot Gunner

        For 99% of all firearms uses, it is a waste of time. People forget about density and cost. Lead is cheap and dense, move over to an alloy or copper you lose density and price becomes galactic. Losing density means you have to have bigger projectiles to get the same weight, bigger projectiles present a problem for magazine fed guns. Seat the bullet in deeper you say? Well now your causing pressure issues. Go with the lighter projectile and now you need faster twist rates to stabilize those lighter projectiles. I’m sure the material they are using is completely made of or has a large percentage of tungsten powder and tungsten in regular form (bar stock or something similar) is already 25x(!) more expensive than lead. Also, traditional draw presses which make copper jacketed lead bullets have a production rate of 250 parts per minute which is 15,000 per hour. No 3D printer can match that pace. You could have rows and rows of 3D printers, but now your capital expenditure and energy usage goes up exponentially and you also need more real estate to house those 3D printers. For the foreseeable future, 3D printing bullets for mass production is not economically feasible.

        • roguetechie

          Who said anything about using polymers for bullets?

          Also, like I said there’s a variety of hybrid manufacturing options starting to evolve.

          So, the problem is actually people’s understanding of what 3d printing is and is not and what it can and cannot do.

          Most of the “problems” etc brought up in the comments to this post are not actually problems with anything other than people assuming they know how far the 3d printing technologies have come when, in reality, the technology and processes have matured far beyond what they’ve considered.

          • Patriot Gunner

            I never said anything about polymers. LOL did you even read my comment or do you not know the difference between a metal alloy and polymers? Do you even know the process of 3D printing with metal powders? Please google it.

            Rather than incorrectly assuming people don’t know what 3D printing is, please elaborate on the density problem. Just because you can print a projectile doesn’t mean its better than how it’s been created for the past 80 years.

          • roguetechie

            Haha, THE 3D printing process with metal… LOL

            since there’s a couple dozen different processes, techniques, and the like just in basic ferrous metal printing… Nope not familiar with all of them, but there’s a HELL of a lot more than ONE!!

            You have just proven my point.

            There’s several companies and techniques which have solved the density and porousness thing and no longer require sintering and microcapillary back fill type processes.

            Hell there are metal printers that can give custom and changing alloy grain and crystalline structure of a contiguous single print precisely to spec!

            I wasn’t being a smart ass when I said many of the comments on this article are Ill informed or based on out of date or bad information.

          • Patriot Gunner

            3D Printing and additive manufacturing are interchangeable, so you just actually proved my point. And the processes you described used amorphous metal alloys with varying densities, but none have achieved a density above 6.8 g/cm3 for economically feasible “mass” scale production. Compare that with lead which has a density of 11.34 g/cm3. That is significant. Even copper has a higher density of 7.87 g/cm3. You can increase the density by developing a tungsten alloy, but then your cost skyrockets. Factor in the slow production rates and it becomes crystal clear to anybody with a grasp of basic arithmetic that it is not economically feasible.

    • roguetechie

      Right because somehow Dillon and other bench top manual reloading equipment couldn’t possibly be bought from a thousand vendors online then modified to integrate with the printer’s other components…

      Really? Just because you couldn’t put 2+2 together to make 4 and see the blatantly obvious easy way to do it doesn’t mean no one else can… Hell really I can see 10 or 12 really easy ways to take that sort of thing above and beyond what people currently do.

      • oldman

        “A genus does not invent the wheel they are the ones that find new uses for it and see the potential that others don’t.” _The Holy Book of Wisdom Of the Cosmic fortune Cookie_

      • iksnilol

        Problem is 3d printing is too slow to be useful for mass producing small arms ammo.

        • Patriot Gunner

          Slow production is only one of many problems.

        • roguetechie

          Yeah for now, but it’s rapidly getting faster and when used as part as a hybrid manufacturing strategy and process it can still operate as a key resource and technology in producing products.

  • Bierstadt54

    Highly skilled tool and die workers can machine some very impressive manufacturing equipment. But a sufficiently advanced 3d printer lets anyone with a few hours of training try to do the same thing, anywhere there is a computer. A machine that can manufacture anything is never going to be as efficient as a machine that only manufactures one thing. But once you unlock the creative potential of millions of people, and more and more 3d printers are built in a world that values original ideas to the tune of billions of dollars and devalues pretty much any job that can be replaced with a machine or AI, well, there are going to be a lot of new ideas to try and a lot of small production runs and at that point the days of lots of machines making only one thing will probably be numbered. Kudos to the Marines for being on the ball.

    • Ondřej Tůma

      Not the same thing. When you machine a part out of metal billet, the part gets physically stronger.

      On the other hand, when you cast a part – it doesn’t matter whether by pressure injection or by laser on 3D-crane -, this process just doesn’t happen.

      And thus, molded or 3D-printed parts would always be mechanically inferior to machined or stamped.

  • Sasquatch

    Got to get a 3D printer…..

    • Dougscamo

      Heck, I’m still trying to figure out my 2D printer…..

  • So, the technology exists to make 3D printed objects that aren’t made of crapulous powdered plastic that’s roughly as durable as sandstone?

    • Sasquatch

      That’s what I was thinking.

    • Paladin

      Laser sintering has been around for a few years now, which allows printing in various metals.

    • Ondřej Tůma

      Yes and no. You could 3D print metals, but…
      Do you know the difference in physical properties between parts machined from metal billets and pressure-molded parts? That’s about the difference between pressure-molded parts and 3D-printed metals.

  • Mike Lashewitz

    Sounds too damned expensive for the taxpayer to me.

  • Cottersay

    I didn’t realize that today was April 1st…

  • Lets back off on the language————

    • roguetechie

      I’m doing you one better and just not engaging anymore…

      There’s really no point anyway, since it’s just one more running encounter in a lifetime full of such encounters with those who spend their days angrily, completely baselessly, and unconvincingly proclaiming that any new or different way of doing things obviously can’t be as good, cheap, etc as the way things are currently done.

      I apologize for my aggressive and extraordinarily abusive responses to him polluting your comments section…

      Note that on a personal level I still firmly wish the innumerable miserable arrogant and stupid Aholes like him would in fact commit mass suicide to atone for their entire existence up to that point being a blight on the human race…

      • Patriot Gunner

        “I’m doing you one better and just not engaging anymore…” So your going to keep commenting to not engage anymore? LOL, wow that makes as much sense as manufacturing projectiles using additive manufacturing techniques that cost 25 times more and can only produce parts at less than 1% of the speed traditional machines can.

        “I apologize for my aggressive and extraordinarily abusive responses to him polluting your comments section…” It’s OK, I forgive you. I know you were just cranky because your mom forgot to get that 5 gallon bucket of rocky road from wal-mart.

  • Patriot Gunner

    ROLF, I am literally rolling on the floor laughing because every insult you hurled at me described you perfectly. It’s as if you were sitting in front a mirror while the text diarrhea ensued.

    You keep continuing to blatantly dodge the obvious and insurmountable cost and slow production problem associated with additive manufacturing while trying to deflect and prove your point by saying there are companies making 3d printed silencers. Which proves my point exactly because the title of this article and what I’ve been talking about IS 3D PRINTING PROJECTILES!!!!! NOT SILENCERS!!!

    By the way, please link me to companies selling these 3D printed silencers, only one that I found was an obscure company selling one for 3.5K!!! Again your argument fails right at basic arithmetic. HEY GENIUS NO ONE IS GOING TO PAY $3,500 FOR A SILENCER WHEN THEY CAN PURCHASE ONE THAT IS JUST A QUIET FOR $900!!!!

    “The list of organizations and companies I cracked off was a list of organizations and companies that already use methods FAR superior to what you keep insisting is the best that can be done with metal printing and who prove you don’t know what the —– you’re talking about and are wrong about where metal printing is and is not viable.” DID NASA START PRINTING BULLETS? OR WAS IT LOCKHEED? MAYBE CHINA!

    I never in any of my posts claimed to be an “expert” in this field or flaunted my credentials in any way shape or form. Before you start lying please be aware that anyone can easily fact check your lies. It was always you who claimed to be the “expert” and given the fact that you have the poorest reading comprehension skills I have ever seen and your failure to grasp basic arithmetic I find your claims to be highly dubious.

    So let me borrow a quote from your own post: “Why you so desperate to try and convince randos on the internet that you are something you’re not?”

    Producing projectiles using additive manufacturing will never, EVER replace or compete with in any way shape or form with traditional lead stamped projectiles.

    I’m sorry to break it to you, I know you’ve tied your whole life into this notion, but its probably time to leave your parents basement and try to burn off that excess 300 pounds you’ve been carrying all your life. You will never lose your virginity and the odds of you getting laid are growing dim every day. I hate to be so harsh, but I’m doing you a favor.