The first 3D metal printed parts to be used across the British Army’s active armoured fleets have been manufactured and fitted by defence company, Babcock International Group (Babcock).
The steel components are believed to be the first made in this way by any supplier to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) specifically to tackle the growing challenges of technical and commercial obsolescence.
The major milestone is part of a longer-term global advanced manufacturing investment programme by Babcock, which is developing a capability that could see parts printed anywhere in the world as and when the point of need arises. This could include seeing 3D printers’ onboard vessels at sea or at military sites abroad.
Fitted onto in-service fleets, Titan, and Trojan vehicles, the parts form part of the periscope system to ensure Army crews have visibility of their immediate surroundings.
Land Chief Executive, Tom Newman, said: “This investment in technology allows us to support our customers in a completely different way, at home and deployed on operations. If a component is required and cannot be sourced, we can now find a way to make it.
“As we look to the future of Equipment Support, Additive Manufacturing has significant implications for our customers, and I am delighted Babcock is leading the way in developing this capability.”
Babcock’s Chief Technology Officer, Dr Richard Drake added: “This marks a major milestone in finding solutions for obsolete parts and in tackling resilience in the supply chain – some of the biggest challenges engineering and manufacturing businesses like ours are facing. We’re using disruptive technologies to address that.
“For us, this is part of a growing investment programme around advanced and additive manufacturing, which we can now progress to other areas of our business and that is hugely exciting for Babcock.”
Brigadier Phil Prosser, CBE, Assistant Chief of Staff for Equipment, HQ Field Army: “The fitting of this additively manufactured part represents a key milestone for Defence and the Army. Additive has disrupted industry manufacturing processes and created an agile alternative to traditional mass manufacture. Working together with Babcock we have unlocked a pathway to manufacture certified parts.
“My role in the Field Army is to deliver safe, supported, available and ready equipment to meet Field Army current and future demand to operate, fight and win wars on land. This ability to rapidly manufacture parts will allow our equipment to rapidly deploy on operations, and to stay in the fight for longer. This is battle winning activity and we are committed to this collaboration and will continue to learn at this impressive pace.”
In February, Babcock launched its technology partnership with Plymouth Science Park and unveiled a brand new innovation centre focused on additive manufacturing techniques. It now means the process to print parts that are obsolete or required in low quantity, such as the periscope clamp, can now be completed in days instead of months.
Digital solutions such as additive manufacturing are becoming increasingly significant in the management of complex, critical, legacy, and low volume assets. Printing parts in this way can also ensure companies that need to manufacture at scale can do so in a more sustainable way, using only materials at the point of need.
Dr Drake added: “We won’t stop here. We are now working towards a future where the additive techniques and processes we are putting into place now; will be readily available across any part of the MoD we support.”
Babcock is responsible for the fleet management of over 50,000 vehicles for the British Army ranging from quad bikes and generators to main battle tanks, and weapons from pistols to in-direct artillery.