The Army’s ARDEC team has taken 3D printing to the next level by printing not only grenade launcher components but also actual working 3D-printed grenades. This isn’t necessarily for use in the field but it will help them design and test grenade systems using advanced rapid prototype equipment.
The team also gave it a pretty kick-ass name. It’s the RAMBO, or Rapid Additively Manufactured Ballistics Ordnance system.
The RAMBO was developed with the help of military and 3D printing experts. ARDEC, or the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, collaborated with the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM), the U.S. Army Manufacturing Technology (ManTech) Program and America Makes.
America Makes is the national additive manufacturing innovation institute, focusing on improving and expanding 3D printing technology in private and public sectors.
“RAMBO is a tangible testament to the utility and maturation of additive manufacturing,” said the Army in an announcement. “It epitomizes a new era of rapidly developed, testable prototypes that will accelerate the rate at which researchers’ advancements are incorporated into fieldable weapons that further enable our warfighters.”
Nearly every part in the launcher was produced using a variety of 3D printing systems. “Every component in the M203A1 grenade launcher, except springs and fasteners, was produced using additive manufacturing techniques and processes.”
“The barrel and receiver were fabricated in aluminum using a direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) process. This process uses high-powered precision lasers to heat the particles of powder below their melting point, essentially welding the fine metal powder layer by layer until a finished object is formed.”
Developers printed the barrel vertically with 3D-printed rifling. Parts were minimally machined to remove support material, then tumbled and finished.
“Other components, like the trigger and firing pin, were printed in 4340 alloy steel, which matches the material of the traditional production parts.”
The point of the project wasn’t to build a better or cheaper grenade launcher. It was to demonstrate that 3D printing is mature enough today to make complete weapon systems.
This isn’t the first time people have successfully produced this tier of 3D-printed assemblage. Solid Concept has 3D printed several 1911-pattern pistols in .45 ACP and 10mm Auto as early as 2013.
Using these rapid prototyping the military researchers can now go from weapons design to testing in a matter of days.
The team also printed the grenade but it was a non-explosive training round. The only outside component of the training round was a commercial handgun cartridge used to launch the grenade.
Their next step will be to 3D-print functioning ammunition. “Research and development is underway at ARDEC to print energetics and propellants,” said the release.