Stronger Steel Parts for Improved Weapons and Military Supply Chain

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.

SOURCES- US Army, 3dprinting industry
Written By Brian Wang,

11 thoughts on “Stronger Steel Parts for Improved Weapons and Military Supply Chain”

  1. Which is why the recent push into metamorphic manufacturing aka robotic blacksmithing is so neat. It’s the next complement after CNC and 3D printing. It might finally bridge the forging divide and reduce cost/time.

  2. Good luck ever duplicating the strength of a forging. (Of course there is the HUGE negative of lead times for forgings.)

  3. As each generation of new military aircraft gets stealthier and stealthier, the radars become more and more sensitive to compensate.
    So the B52’s radar signature gets larger and larger in relative terms.
    One B52 probably already has the same radar return as the rest of the entire airforce.

  4. Although it sounds promissing, the problem with metal printing is amorf cristaline structure, its the reason why normal steel is still stronger, maybe as casted not that light but when it comes to strength printing is often not the best for steel.
    First wonder if a (printed) carbon composite can do it, next can steel welding or casting do it, else if it needs to be light and temperature is not extreme high then 70% of the time its carbon, and in the future with improved carbon printing it be like 95% or so.

  5. It’s a venerable aircraft… I still like the idea of merging several B-52 fuselages together at the wing spar, and creating a huge craft that created a radar cross section so large it will make radar operators poop their pants.

  6. Science fiction often has someone pull out an antique 1911 pistol, or Colt Peacemaker pistol, or something similar in the 25th century.

    But to be realistic they should also have the Galactic Patrol still have a B-52 squadron. Because there is no way they are ever leaving service.

    There will of course be a program to replace them. The 12th program since the Man-Kzin wars begun. But somehow it never happens.

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