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Jointless Hull giant metal 3D printer project wins MilAM 2024 Award

The US Army, MELD Manufacturing and Ingersoll honored for outstanding achievement in 3D printing in support of DoD

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MELD Manufacturing Corporation, inventors of Additive Friction Stir Deposition (AFSD) technology, was selected for the MilAM 2024 Technical Achievement Award for 3D Printing Innovation. The Jointless Hull team group nomination also includes US Army GVSC, ASTRO America, Ingersoll Machine Tool, Siemens, and LIFT.

The prestigious award, presented at the Manufacturing Summit & Technology Showcase (Mil AM), honors the individuals, or groups, that have exemplified outstanding achievement in 3D printing in support of DoD mission priorities.

In 2023, Rock Island Arsenal (RIA-JMTC), under the leadership of the U.S. Army Ground Vehicle Systems Center (GVSC), brought the world’s largest printer for metal parts of alloys from aluminum to steel online. A smaller companion version of the same additive and subtractive machine is housed at the SAE managed AMCC facility to encourage additional industrial use and partnership with the DOD. This collaborative effort aims to foster industrial partnerships and enhance the Department of Defense’s (DOD) capabilities.

Jointless Hull project team standing under the full-scale tool being manufactured.

“[The technology] opens up the aperture of our capabilities,” said Edward Flinn, director of the Advanced Manufacturing Center of Excellence at RIA-JMTC. “This is a one-of-a-kind device.” The Jointless Hull machine is the world’s largest additive and subtractive manufacturing apparatus. The equipment was built for the U.S. Army with RIA-JMTC, the U.S. Army Ground Systems Center, Ingersoll Machine Tool, the Applied Science and Technology Research Organization of America, Siemens and LIFT. The Jointless Hull is operated by the workforce of Department of the Army civilians and transforms the manufacturing capabilities at RIA-JMTC.

“To be able to 3D print something that is forging-level quality didn’t exist until now,” said Flinn. “In the past, except for some unique situations, it’s always been a weldment or assembly using conventional techniques. The joints were always the weakest section of the part. This new system makes it possible for people to not worry about the joints or seams because you can make it in one piece.”

The US Army, MELD Manufacturing and Ingersoll win MilAM 2024 Award for Jointless Hull giant metal 3D printer project

For the additive process, the Jointless Hull uses MELD’s friction stir AM, a process that can be considered a game-changer in the 3D printing landscape due to its solid-state nature, a distinctive feature that sets it apart from traditional fusion-based processes. Unlike AM methods that involve melting metal, MELD’s solid-state approach enables printing with alloys like 7075 and 2219 aluminum, crucial for industries prioritizing lightweight components such as aerospace. Additionally, MELD can produce parts in the widely used aluminum alloy 6061, eliminating the need for special powders or alloys.

One of the key advantages of MELD’s solid-state process is its safety. By utilizing standard off-the-shelf metal rods, the MELD printers eliminate the hazards associated with metal powders. The open-air printing capability allows MELD machines to produce very large parts economically, demonstrated when printing a record-breaking 10ft/3.05m diameter aluminum cylinder – the largest additively manufactured cylinder to date.

The US Army, MELD Manufacturing and Ingersoll win MilAM 2024 Award for Jointless Hull giant metal 3D printer project

The U.S. Army has embraced the potential of MELD’s large-scale printing capabilities to expedite parts from the supply chain, enhance vehicle survivability, and explore emerging materials. This investment has opened avenues for research and development in materials not previously printable at this scale.

Astro America, a key supporter of this initiative, has provided project funding to the industry for the relevant use of the Army MELD printer. Industry giants like Boeing have already showcased parts manufactured using the Army MELD printer, illustrating the widespread impact and adoption of this revolutionary technology. The collaborative efforts span the entire AM ecosystem, from software tools and printers to parts, engineering, analysis, materials evaluation, and workforce development.

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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based VoxelMatters. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites VoxelMatters.com and Replicatore.it, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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