Okinawa Marines gets newmetal 3D printer

3D metal printer ‘opens up a whole new world’ Okinawa Marines say

. The III Marine Expeditionary Force has now acquired a new 3D metal printer to add to their arsenal of gear. The new cutting-edge 3D metal printer, they say, will hopefully make the manufacturing of vehicle or weapon parts more efficient.

The III Marine shipped the Markforged Metal X 3D printer to Camp Kinser, Okinawa, Japan, piece by piece and put it together. The rig finally became operational in December, Marine officials said.

The 3D metal printer uses powdered stainless steel to print and produce multiple metal parts. Otherwise, these parts would be difficult to machine or cast.

The $150,000 bounty machine is the first for a Marine force with III MEF getting the first man honors. III MEF is the first expeditionary force to receive a 3D metal printer, says 3rd Marine Logistics Group spokeswoman 1st Lt. Tori Sharpe.

The III Marine Expeditionary Force expects the arrival of the printer to free up Marines. These marines would otherwise spend hours carving parts out of blocks of metal. This will save money and reduce waste. Downtimes associated with ordering parts from the United States will also be avoided

Plastic 3D printers “are great for prototyping, but where they fall short, it’s very few [finished] components that they’re able to produce,” said shop foreman Staff Sgt. Quincy Reynolds, 36, of Baltimore, Md.

Reynolds said plastic 3D printers have been in the fleet for only four or five years.

“Whereas with our new metal 3D printer, that opens up a whole new world for us,” he said. “This piece of equipment is able to save time with the multiple prints and then you’re able to have a completed [piece] … that does not need any machining.”

Staff Sgt Reynolds along with 12 Marines has the responsibility to repair components for vehicles and weapon systems. That entails spending the whole day milling and machining parts out of metal blocks. This can, however, be both wasteful and time-consuming, as Reynolds explains.

Hand making these parts often requires multiple tool changes, dedicated attention for eight to 12 hours at a time to make a single piece in which one miscalculation could force the entire process to start over.

The 3D metal printer can print multiple pieces at the same time, Reynolds said. A Marine makes sure the print’s base layers are correct at the outset.  After that, the printer finishes the jobe on its own. There is also little to no waste.

Marines can now take on as many as four projects at a time, Reynolds said.

With the Metal X, Marines can design their own parts for printing in a computer-aided design program called SolidWorks or download approved blueprints from the Marine Corps system, Reynolds said.

Parts that are printed could be as large as 13 square inches. They are soaked in liquid argon to remove the plastic support filament. Next, the part cooks in a 290-cubic-inch coil-heated furnace for as long as 27 hours at up to 2,700 degrees F. The process also infuses gases that solidify the metal.

The metal X furnace size is the only drawback. Reynolds said, which is about half of the printer capacity. He said plans are already in the works to upgrade to a larger furnace.

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The battalion’s goal is to be able to print or manufacture any metal part that III MEF needs with the help of the 3D metal printer. Thus far, they have made gauges for .50-caliber machine guns, sockets for wrenches, and a piece to test weapon optics at the armory.

They hope to expand their portfolio in the days to come.

“We’re asking units, ‘Hey, just give us a problem. Let us figure out the solution for you,’” he said. “Right now, the sky is the limit honestly with this printer. If you can think of it, we can literally do it.”

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