New technology developed with RIA-JMTC wins 2024 Technical Achievement Award for 3D Printing Innovation at Military Additive Manufacturing Summit & Technology Showcase

By Kendall SwankMay 13, 2024

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Rock Island Arsenal-Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center's cutting-edge technology for 3D printing large metal components has already begun to garner recognition, winning awards at North America’s premier military, aerospace, and defense 3D printing event.

“This 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, known as the world’s largest additive and subtractive manufacturing apparatus, is housed within RIA-JMTC’s 3 million-square-foot footprint at Rock Island Arsenal. It recently earned the 2024 Technical Achievement Award for 3D Printing Innovation at the 8th Annual Military Additive Manufacturing Summit & Technology Showcase.

The equipment, developed for the U.S. Army in collaboration 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, is operated by the skilled workforce of Department of the Army Civilians and revolutionizes manufacturing capabilities at RIA-JMTC.

“To be able to 3D print something that is forging level quality didn’t exist until now,” Flinn noted. “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 innovation combines Additive Friction Stir Deposition technology from Meld Manufacturing with Ingersoll Machine Tool’s Gantry crane system, resulting in the largest library of materials that can be directly 3D metal printed and machined without a heat treat cycle in between.

“The technology is a way to print metal with the same properties that you would get from like a blacksmith with a hammer,” explained Chase Cox, vice president of Meld Manufacturing. “So, you get metal hot, put pressure on it and it forms and changes shape. The only difference here is we don’t have a hammer. We have a machine that’s applying the force and we’re rotating that material to get the heat built up. From there, the material can deposit much like a plastic printer.”

The process unlocks new possibilities for metal manufacturing for the U.S. Army. The Jointless Hull boasts a print volume of 20 feet by 30 feet by 12 feet, which could lead to larger metal 3D prints in the future, potentially building equipment the size of tank hulls with minimal use of traditional manufacturing processes.

This prototype equipment is part of the U.S. Army’s new 15-year, $4.5 billion modernization plan across its Organic Industrial Base. Army Materiel Command will oversee the transition at RIA-JMTC, including a new thick aluminum line, upgrades to the factory’s foundry, and several other projects scheduled ahead of 2030 and beyond.

“RIA-JMTC is extremely proud of this great achievement in manufacturing by our team and partners, and we’re excited to be paving a path forward with this technology,” said Col. David Guida, commanding officer of RIA-JMTC. “Not only will it allow us to utilize this type of equipment before anyone else in the world, but it will also ensure our organization continues leading the way for the U.S. Army’s modernization efforts across the OIB.”

The future capabilities of the Jointless Hull could lead to further advancements in 3D metal printing technology, aligning with RIA-JMTC’s vision of producing high-quality, on-time readiness solutions for the warfighter while modernizing for the next fight. The machine could eventually operate around the clock without employee supervision, reducing manufacturing and delivery times while producing stronger and more reliable components.

“This project is a representation of the successes we can have when the government and [private] industry work together to create something new and innovative,” said Larry Holmes, director of government relations for ASTRO America. “The U.S. Army is taking huge strides in developing new manufacturing technologies, but it also requires the help of people in the industry.”