The 3D printing process makes a physical, three-dimensional object from a computer-aided design (CAD) model, usually by laying down many thin layers of a material, for this reason it’s also called ‘additive manufacturing’.
In mid-2019, DTA in conjunction with the Directorate of Land Engineering (DLE) used a 3D printer to create replica landmines to train soldiers in what to look out for as they prepare for a mission.
Before overseas deployment, personnel require training on threats, such as landmines, that they may come across in the field. The size, shape and what the objects look like in real life can be conveyed easiest with realistic life size inert examples of the devices (higher quality training on the specifics of each device requires a physical replica).
Replica devices have been used for training for a long time, however the cost and limited availability (sometimes no availability) of these inert mines have proved problematic.
Clayton Lines, DTA’s engineer on the project, says the new 3D printed versions solve this problem, as they are a fraction of the cost, and can be manufactured to replicate any devices that haven’t been available before.
“We developed a suite of inert replica mines designed to give soldiers a realistic appreciation of these life-threatening hazards.” They built the training devices using 3D-printed nylon 12, a material well known for its durability and suitability for field use.
The basic process is to measure a real device and draw a 3D model with CAD software, which is then manufactured using a 3D printer. Once printed, the model is post processed (for example, painted) and checked to see that it meets the required specifications, functionality and performance. If modifications are required these are made to the CAD model, the item is re-printed and then checked again. “When we are happy that the item is fit for purpose the full order quantity is printed out and sent to the customer.”
The work that DTA has done to provide these items is invaluable in terms of real cost when I consider the ability to purchase the inert items themselves
The advantage of using 3D printing technology is that relatively small quantities of geometrically complex shapes can be produced more cost effectively than any other manufacturing process available today. Using 3D printing also allows the end-user to customise the mines. In this case, the mines have been designed as two-piece screw together units so they can add metal content inside to allow for metal-detection training.
3D printing technology can also be used by the military to produce such things as spare parts in the field to support equipment and machinery, so DTA is working with the three services and other military end-users to introduce 3D printing into the NZDF