Marine Corps Sgt. Adrian Willis, a computer and telephone technician with Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, prepares to print a 3D model aboard the USS Wasp. Photo by Cpl. Bernadette Wildes/U.S. Marine Corps
April 24 (UPI) -- The U.S. Marine Corps is breaking new technological ground with 3D printing, recently finding a way to combat a lack of spare parts and slow production turnovers by printing a part for an F-35B Lightning II aircraft.
Last week, Marines with Combat Logistic Battalion 31, with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, out of Marine Corps bases in Japan, announced they are capable of "additive manufacturing" of temporary parts to aid in sustained operations through 3D printing.
"I think 3D printing is definitely the future -- it's absolutely the direction the Marine Corps needs to be going," Marine Corps Sgt. Adrian Willis said in a press release.
In October 2016, a Marine Corps infantry battalion out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., became the first unit in the Corps to possess a 3D printer.
Marines of 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment began testing 3D printing to produce facility upgrades and other temporary fixes, such as replacing broken front-sight posts used for aiming on a light anti-armor weapon trainer or hand-guards for different rifle variants.
The regular process of replacing broken items requires a work request to go through a chain of facilities and takes at least two weeks, and as long as six months, to receive new parts.
Now, Marines can produce new operational parts within 48 hours through the use of 3D printers.
The 31st MEU Marines are using 3D printers as an "alternative, temporary source for parts," which recently included the production of at least one replacement part for the F-35B Lightning II.
The part, a plastic bumper on a landing gear door that wore out, would have been more expensive and time-consuming to order from the United States, at least partially because an entire door assembly would need to be ordered -- rather than just the small part.
The MEU's explosive ordnance disposal team also received a 3D-printed lens cap for a camera on an Robot 310 small unmanned ground vehicle -- a part that did not exist at the time, according to the Defense Department.
The Marines say that figuring out how to more quickly obtain items they need while deployed is a key to their success, and in line with the motto of "fix it forward."
"Finding innovative solutions to complex problems really does harken back to our core principles as Marines," Willis said. "I'm proud to be a part of a new program that could be a game-changer for the Marine Corps."