Army partners with Marine Corps for 3-D printed technology solutions

January 27, 2017

By David McNally, ARL Public Affairs

Story Highlights

  • Two hydraulic mechanics from Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 29 in Jacksonville, North Carolina, came up with an idea to streamline hydraulic line maintenance and brought their idea to an Army research facility at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Jan. 26, 2017) -- For U.S. Marine Corps aviators, hydraulics are critical for all the heavy lifting that happens during aircraft operations.

Two hydraulic mechanics from Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 29 in Jacksonville, North Carolina, came up with an idea to streamline hydraulic line maintenance and and that idea brought them to an Army research facility at APG.

"We're aircraft mechanics," said Marine Cpl. Habtamu Sharew. "We work specifically on the hydraulics systems and the majority of our jobs come from bending tubes."

Metal tubes push hydraulic fluids under high pressure and make things happen on an aircraft.

"All the birds rely on heavy hydraulic systems for landing gear, for flaps, you name it," said Lance Cpl. Juan Herreragonzalez. "This is what we've been dealing with and we came up with a pretty good prototype to kind of deal with this issue."

Sharew and Herreragonzalez entered their idea for improving how they shape and form hydraulic lines to the 2016 Marine Corps Logistic Innovation Challenge. Out of more than 300 entries, their idea was one of 18 to move on to the next step.

The Corps partnered with various DOD laboratories, such as the Army Research Laboratory and its sister organizations, the Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center and the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, to leverage 3-D printing and additive manufacturing capabilities.

Army engineers worked closely with the Marines for a week and came up with a 3-D printed flexible tube that can be shaped on site and then brought back to the shop where a metal tube can be bent in the same exact shape, replicating the tube being replaced.

"One of our benefits is getting to work with the boots on the ground," said Lance Hall, AMRDEC mechanical engineer. "We don't often get to do that. We're stuck in our labs. We're doing our science projects. So when we're able to get input and say 'Hey we need something.' That's a little extra exuberance when we do our job. It's like these guys need it. Let's go out there and make it happen for them."

"3-D printing is an essential part of our project right now because all the tools we used to manufacture the prototype we have right now are printed out in 3-D and it really helped us in a way that we weren't able to do in the first place," Sharew said.

Sharew's weeklong experience working alongside Army researchers gave him insight about the future of 3-D printing.

"I think the DOD community will soon be heading to that additive manufacturing route because you can't just be sitting around and waiting for parts," he said. "You should make it available to a point where any Soldier or any Marine out there deployed wherever they're at can just get the specs and manufacture the parts as needed."

Sharew said it would take some time and training to get there.

"I'm pretty sure we're going to get there because from what I've seen the job that takes us a while with 3-D printing it was done just like that and it's really amazing," he said. "I'm pretty sure that's going to be the future for DOD in general."

"Additive manufacturing has always been known for fast iteration time. So you get more iterations out in less time for less money, it's going to continue to do that," said Bradley Ruprecht ECBC engineering technician/model maker. "The big pie in the sky future idea is to have additive manufacturing in the field to help reduce supply chain costs, but also the time to get things. You can just build it at your forward operating base."

The purpose of the Marine Corps Logistics Innovation Challenge is inspire solutions and then mature those ideas into a fielded capability.

"First of all there's no bad idea out there. It's really up to that Marine to take the initiative and take it to the next step," Sharew said. "With us, we had the idea for a long time, but when the Marine Corps came out with the Innovation Challenge, that was our opportunity and it paid off. While we had a small idea in the back of our minds, it was actually something worth pursuing."

The U.S. Army Research Laboratory, currently celebrating 25 years of excellence in Army science and technology, is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities that provide decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the joint warfighter and the nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.


Last Update / Reviewed: January 27, 2017