We’ve all been there, you are about to start on a project and find that the tool you need is not working and needs something repaired. Most of us simply head on out to our local hardware or home improvement store and get the much-needed items to facilitate the repair. Generally, within a day or two, you are back up and running. Now, imagine you are in a remote location, and something you need has worn out or breaks. The task of repairing it becomes much more difficult. This is a situation that is faced by many of our armed forces while deployed, and they started asking how can we get the parts we need when we need them.
Luckily they found the solution they needed: 3D printing. The Marines with Combat Logistic Battalion 31 (CLB-31) and 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) have implemented 3D printing as a means to fabricate replacement parts while deployed.
Charged with the implementation for his Unit, Sgt. Adrian Willis said:
“I think 3-D printing is definitely the future - it’s absolutely the direction the Marine Corps needs to be going,”
It’s not surprising that the Marine Corps has adopted 3D printing technology as they pride themselves on self-reliance and mission accomplishment. From the first day of boot camp recruits are trained to have a ‘figure-it-out’ mindset. 3D printing gives them the self-reliance they need to get the job done.
As a permanently forward-deployed unit, the 31st MEU’s mission is to deploy at a moments notice. With a strong drive for mission accomplishment, they can’t afford to wait for parts that would need to be shipped half-way around the world. 3D printing has become an alternative and temporary source for parts and is a technology that they can bring with them when they deploy on Navy shipping.
"While afloat, our motto is 'fix it forward,'" said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Daniel Rodriguez, CLB-31's maintenance officer. "3-D printing is a great tool to make that happen. CLB-31 can now bring that capability to bear exactly where it's needed most - on a forward-deployed MEU."
Recently the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 flew an F-35B Lightning II with a 3D printed part courtesy of the CLB-31’s 3D printer. The F-35B had a plastic bumper on a landing gear door wear out during MEU’s Spring Patrol. The repair would normally involve ordering an entire door assembly. Waiting for the assembly would take time and involve replacing more parts than just the one that was broken. Instead of waiting they were able to 3D print the specific part they needed, and the F-35B was up in the air in a matter of days.
“As a commander, my most important commodity is time,” said Lt. Col Richard Rusnok, VMFA-121 commanding officer. “Although our supply personnel and logisticians do an outstanding job getting us parts, being able to rapidly make our own parts is a huge advantage as it cuts down our footprint thus making us more agile in a shipboard or expeditionary environment. In this instance we were able to team with our sister unit, CLB-31, to not only rapidly manufacture a replacement but also save thousands of dollars in the process.”
CLB-31 is using their 3D printer for more than just replacement parts though. Recently the MEU’s explosive ordnance disposal team needed something to protect a delicate camera lens on an iRobot 310 Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle. So, in the true nature of the Marines, the CLB-31’s 3D printing team designed and printed the part.
So whether it is replacing a broken part or designing a solution to facilitate a need, the 31st MEU is continuing to find new opportunities utilize 3D printing technology. Having the 3D printer at their disposal is allowing them to think of new ways to improvise, adapt and overcome.