Marines to Muster 3D-Printed Drones

The U.S. Marines plan to deploy a small, unmanned surveillance drone called the Nibbler.

As part of their efforts to streamline supply chain operations and advance the use of 3D printing, the U.S. Marines plan to deploy a small, unmanned surveillance drone called the Nibbler. It could be the first 3D-printed drone used in combat operations by conventional forces, according to recent coverage in Defense Systems magazine.

“Our team is very enthusiastic about the Nibbler, but even more enthusiastic about what it represents for the future,” said Capt. Chris J. Wood, who oversees innovation efforts at the Marine Corps’ installations and logistics branch.

By having the ability to print these smaller drones, the Marines can create the ability to have manufacturing capabilities in theater using 3D printers, ready-made components, and filament. Wood says the Marines could create a “near infinite set of different UAS that we could produce from those basic elements.”

Speaking at the Deloitte Additive Manufacturing Forum earlier this year, Marine logistics expert Lt. Col. Howard Marrotto indicated that the Marines plan even more adoption of 3D printing.

The Marines already have for 3D printing labs underway, and 25 maker units have been deployed. The Department of Defense is also testing an expeditionary manufacturing system (EXMAN) that includes a 3D printer, 3-axis mill/lathe, a scanner, and computers to create parts and other equipment in combat.

As for the Nibbler, Wood indicated it would be used for notice missions in conjunction with several other 3D printed drones that are under development.

“We can have a backpack-able fixed wing UAS for long endurance ISR. We can have a small quadcopter for building clearing operations,” he said. “We will forward deploy these capabilities into a combat zone as soon as possible.”

Source: Defense Systems

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Brian Albright
Brian Albright is the editorial director of Digital Engineering and a contributor to Robotics 24/7.
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