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The US Army Research Laboratory has a new way to print durable steel parts on-demand and has feedstock more than 50 percent stronger than what’s commercially available. Printed parts could become the standard for future systems with superior capabilities.

Above -Army researcher Dr. Brandon McWilliams, holds a sample 3D metal printed part. Photo via the U.S. Army/ David McNally.

Additive manufacturing cuts back the weight of certain parts which can increase the range, blast size, and guidance technology of future munitions. This capability is being pioneered for the Long Range Precision Fire (LRPF) rocket, missile, and artillery rounds that fire at longer distances.

New lighter-weight printed parts can be used to rearrange the explosive components of a missile and increase overall lethality.

Enhanced 3D printing capabilities is using a specialized steel alloy powder called AF-96. AF-96 was developed by the U.S. Air Force for bunker-busting bomb applications.

The metal printer’s laser carefully melts the powder into a pattern. Then the printer overlays the powder onto the build plate and repeats the process until the part is complete. The microstructure can create more alloys that will work better and have a lower cost. Expensive cobalt and tungsten are not needed.

The printed parts can also be used to shorten wait time to repair old systems.

They have 3D printed AF96 impeller fans, which are used to cool the fan motor in a tank engine. The fans controlling the temperature of the Abrams tank. The ability to remotely 3D print AF96 parts will reduce the strain on the army’s logistics chain.