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CHIPS Articles: Marines using additive manufacturing to bring innovation to the battlefield

Marines using additive manufacturing to bring innovation to the battlefield
By Daniel Daglis, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division - August 22, 2017
The Marine Corps Innovation Challenge was established to bring new ideas to the warfighter from the warfighter. Several Marines introduced their winning innovations to senior leaders during a presentation session at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division in West Bethesda, Maryland, Aug. 15.

Carderock’s Additive Manufacturing Project Office (Code 6103), along with the Corrosion and Coatings Engineering Branch (Code 614), provided support for the competition hosting three of the seven winners – 2nd Lt. Ben Lacount, Staff Sgt. Daniel Diep and Capt. Kyle McCarley — earlier in the year. These Marines were given the opportunity to work with Carderock engineers in the Manufacturing, Knowledge and Education (MAKE) Lab to prototype their ideas using the MAKE Lab’s 3-D printers and additional resources.

Capt. Christopher Wood, active duty lead for additive manufacturing (AM) in the Marine Corps, gave the introduction to a crowd including Lt. Gen. Michael G. Dana, deputy commandant for installations and logistics, Maj. Gen Neil "Rick" Nelson, deputy commanding general of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Brig. Gen. (Sel) Christian F. Wortman, commanding officer of The Basic School and Jeannette Evans-Morgis, deputy to the commander of Systems Engineering and Acquisition Logistics at Marine Corps Systems Command.

2nd Lt. Ben Lacount gave a presentation on his prototype for an expended rounds counter, nicknamed the “Lacounter,” which he developed two prototypes for with the help of Carderock’s Bryan Kessel, an engineer from the Additive Manufacturing Project Office.

Lacount came up with the idea because he said that when the warfighter is trying to suppress enemy fire, the last thing on their mind is keeping mental track of how many rounds are left in the weapon. He hopes that with this new device it will provide Marines and other warfighters alike better situational awareness when they’re in a combat environment.

“My goal for this project was to have a simple, lightweight, low-cost and no battery solution to this issue,” Lacount said. “So what we developed with this team of Carderock engineers is a counter that attaches to any Picatinny rail on a weapons system. This includes your M-16, your M-4, your 249s, 240s and even your 50-caliber machine guns. And the way it does this is either by using the recoil of the weapon by what we call the inertial design, or the lever-action design which will count the rounds as it strikes the brass inside the weapon.”

Staff Sgt. Deip, who serves as a maintenance chief stationed at the 14th Marine Regiment, is using his innovation to alleviate a problem he came across while maintaining gear for the Marines. Deip said that a few years ago the Marine Corps decided to modernize the M777 howitzer by adding a piece of technology called the Chief of Section Display (CSD) used for aiming navigation. While it has proved to be a useful tool in aiming such a large piece of artillery with long-rang capabilities, sometimes the cable that attaches the CSD to the weapon can be damaged from debris that gets stuck in the cable and then is further damaged by being jammed on the end of the device.

Deip was able to develop a short cable cap about six inches in length that can easily be plugged into the cable itself and is disposable. Deip added that this is a very cost-effective way to keep the M777 howitzer in the action and from being rendered defective due to the damage to the CSD cable. These cable caps can be produced for around $10, which offers an incredible savings from having to replace the entire cable which Deip estimated to cost around $3,000 and would normally take him a week to repair.

“The neat thing about this cable cap is the cable heads themselves can be additively manufactured, and Marines like myself can take all the old cables, cut them down, and we can put new heads on them after 3-D printing,” Deip said.

Capt. Carley visited Carderock most recently May 22-24 where he developed a prototype for his “Bang Bag” which is a modified field backpack that enables the warfighter to easily carry Bangalores, explosive charges used by combat engineers to clear obstacles in the field.

According to McCarley, Bangalore torpedoes are bulky and difficult to take on patrol, but are often used in training to rehearse the breaching fundamentals and conduct an assault breach. With the implementation of a quiver like backpack that he designed with elastic straps that can hold Bangalore torpedoes, flexibility at the tactical level would be afforded to combat engineers when conducting mobility operations. McCarley added that this backpack could be created as a modification to the existing assault pack in the squad demolition kit.

Capt. Tony Molnar and Master Sgt. Gage Conduto are working to bring AM capabilities to forward-deployed Marines abroad. Molnar, a combat engineer and project officer currently stationed at Marine Corps Systems Command at Quantico in Virginia, wants to bring AM labs directly to the warfighter while also using readily available resources with his product: a recycled plastic processing center.

“It’s a 20-foot intermodal container where we can turn plastic bottles, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic right now, from a used bottle into a usable filament that can be used to 3-D print,” Molnar said. “This container will benefit the Marine expeditionary units and the Marine Corps and DOD because it can do two things: One, it enhances the expeditionary readiness of forward-deployed units by being able to print parts locally on site using recycled materials, and second, it helps those combat units forward by providing stuff that they can’t do, as well as printing stuff for the local populous during humanitarian disaster relief that we couldn’t normally do and that we’d have to pay someone to do.”

Molnar exhibited a radio bracket that was 3-D printed out of 12 water bottles in just six hours. He added that his team is working on expanding their 3-D printing capabilities using acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastics through additional funding and further modification.

Conduto, an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) tech currently serving as course chief for the explosive ordnance exploitation course at the EOD Training Center in California, is also focused on bringing AM capabilities directly to the warfighter. He pointed out that the major problem he sees is that ordnances are constantly evolving; however, the tools that exploit these explosives are not evolving as quickly. His goal with his idea for a deployable fabrication system is to give EOD techs the ability to build their own tools in the field for ordnance exploitation.

“This system consists of 3-D scanner, a 3-D printer for plastic and metal, and a computer numerical controlled (CNC) mill and CNC leg,” Conduto said. “All of these items — and this is not new technology by any means — but this is a new application and we’re giving it to the EOD tech. The reason we have to do that is because I can’t walk down to the Marine Corps machinist with a stinger missile in my hand and say, ‘I need a set of tools made, can you get these back to me next week?’ There are ordnance-related oddities we have to deal with in the field and I need to be able to do this in house.”

Conduto is currently working with engineers at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Keyport Division to build these deployable quick-ready kits to bring directly to the warfighter. He added that these kits will give deployed techs the ability to keep generating the tools they need in a very quick, cost-effective manner.

Following the presentations, the Marine Corps leadership was given a tour of some of the Carderock facilities including the command’s MAKE Lab which offers employees an open workspace to learn AM and the 3-D printing process.

U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. Michael G. Dana, Deputy Commandant for Installations and Logistics, Headquarters Marine Corps (far left), and other visiting U.S. Marine Corps leaders in additive manufacturing watch a welding display put on by Greg Nehl, a welding engineer assigned to Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division’s Welding, Processing and Nondestructive Evaluation Branch, during a tour in West Bethesda, Md., Aug. 15, 2017. These leaders were visiting Carderock along with Marines presenting their winning entries from the Marine Innovation Challenge, an effort launched last year to empower Marines and Sailors to come up with fresh ideas to increase safety and efficiency for their unit or mission.  U.S. Navy photo by Dustin Q. Diaz/Released
U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. Michael G. Dana, Deputy Commandant for Installations and Logistics, Headquarters Marine Corps (far left), and other visiting U.S. Marine Corps leaders in additive manufacturing watch a welding display put on by Greg Nehl, a welding engineer assigned to Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division’s Welding, Processing and Nondestructive Evaluation Branch, during a tour in West Bethesda, Md., Aug. 15, 2017. These leaders were visiting Carderock along with Marines presenting their winning entries from the Marine Innovation Challenge, an effort launched last year to empower Marines and Sailors to come up with fresh ideas to increase safety and efficiency for their unit or mission. U.S. Navy photo by Dustin Q. Diaz/Released

U.S. Marine 2nd Lt. Ben Lacount presents his winning entry from the Marine Corps Innovation Challenge during a showcase at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, in West Bethesda, Md., Aug. 15, 2017. Lacount created an expended rounds counter for the M16 rifle in the Manufacturing, Knowledge and Education Laboratory, Carderock’s additive manufacturing collaborative space. He and other Marines were presenting their winning entries from the challenge, an effort launched last year to empower Marine and Sailors to come up with fresh ideas to increase safety and efficiency for their unit or mission.  U.S. Navy photo by Dustin Q. Diaz/Released
U.S. Marine 2nd Lt. Ben Lacount presents his winning entry from the Marine Corps Innovation Challenge during a showcase at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, in West Bethesda, Md., Aug. 15, 2017. Lacount created an expended rounds counter for the M16 rifle in the Manufacturing, Knowledge and Education Laboratory, Carderock’s additive manufacturing collaborative space. He and other Marines were presenting their winning entries from the challenge, an effort launched last year to empower Marine and Sailors to come up with fresh ideas to increase safety and efficiency for their unit or mission. U.S. Navy photo by Dustin Q. Diaz/Released

Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division (NSWCCD) Commanding Officer Capt. Mark Vandroff and NSWCCD Technical Director Dr. Tim Arcano meet with U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. Michael Dana, Deputy Commandant for Installations and Logistics, Headquarters Marine Corps, and U.S. Marine Brig. Gen. (Sel) Christian Wortman, commanding officer of The Basic School, during the Marine Innovation Showcase Challenge in West Bethesda, Md., Aug. 15, 2017. Dana, Wortman and other Marine leaders were visiting Carderock along with Marines presenting their winning entries from the Marine Innovation Challenge, an effort launched last year to empower Marines and Sailors to come up with fresh ideas to increase safety and efficiency for their unit or mission. U.S. Navy photo by Dustin Q. Diaz/Released
Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division (NSWCCD) Commanding Officer Capt. Mark Vandroff and NSWCCD Technical Director Dr. Tim Arcano meet with U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. Michael Dana, Deputy Commandant for Installations and Logistics, Headquarters Marine Corps, and U.S. Marine Brig. Gen. (Sel) Christian Wortman, commanding officer of The Basic School, during the Marine Innovation Showcase Challenge in West Bethesda, Md., Aug. 15, 2017. Dana, Wortman and other Marine leaders were visiting Carderock along with Marines presenting their winning entries from the Marine Innovation Challenge, an effort launched last year to empower Marines and Sailors to come up with fresh ideas to increase safety and efficiency for their unit or mission. U.S. Navy photo by Dustin Q. Diaz/Released
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