It is called the Expeditionary Lab, a 20 feet long shipping container packed with the latest technologies including 3D printers, plasma cutters and industrial CNC machines. This is the latest asset of the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force, a military organization making sure frontline soldiers are prepared and equipped.
The 3D printers inside the lab let the engineers crank out custom made parts for guns, armor and other equipment. The army was never able to fabricate such parts on the spot, on location. Now that this is possible in Afganistan, they won’t have to ship new equipment overseas which reduces the cost of shipping and also means that soldiers will get immediate access to potential life saving equipment.
At the moment there is only one lab deployed in Southern Afghanistan. But as a result of the usefulness of this lab, the military is deploying a second one to the Eastern part of Afghanistan this fall. Also they will be keeping one in the states that can be deployed for aid during national disasters.
This military interest in 3D printing is very important for the development of 3D printing as a whole. They are looking at the possibilities from a different angle. REF’s director, Col. Peter Newell, said that 3D printers “are not really inventing anything new; they are modifying something that exists already so they can do something else.” This is a new way of looking at the potentials of 3D printing and will sure bring some interesting new things in the near future.