3D Printing Is a Game-Changer

By Captain Matthew Friedell, U.S. Marine Corps

Even though AM technology has not been fully tested in an operational context, its time in defense operations is fast approaching. The faster we build and replace broken weapons of war, the faster we win. By reducing logistics trains and increasing the potential for innovation, the Sea Services will see economies of scale never imagined on the asymmetric battlefield.

One burgeoning area of AM that will have a resonant effect on Navy and Marine Corps operations is the additive manufacturing of structures. In his FRAG-O 01/2016: Advance to Combat, the 37th Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Robert B. Neller, states:

Innovation necessitates making hypotheses about the future operating environment that are then tested for validity, just as Marines did in the 1920s and 1930s. We may not find initial successes in all of our experimentation efforts, but our continued focus and persistence will lead to solutions that will enable our future force.

This “disruptive” mind-set must be pursued and fostered, or it will not sustain itself within our bureaucracy. “We need creative leaders who think!” General Neller continued. With his eye toward innovation, in a town hall meeting in February, he said, “I’ve seen 3D printers print shelters. We wouldn’t have to bring tents with us anymore. We just print them.” This call to action to the Marine Corps must be investigated.

The Marine Corps and Navy must be ready to disrupt traditional approaches and processes in logistics on all levels and be ready to capitalize on the benefits expeditionary AM construction may bring. In his Marine Corps Gazette article, “Expeditionary Logistics for the 21st Century: Tactical and Operational Efficiency,” now-retired Marine Lieutenant General William Faulkner stated that logisticians must “become more adaptable, imaginative, and creative to solve logistics challenges inherent in our crisis response mission and other operational requirements across the ROMO [range of military operations].” 2 Bringing a machine capable of the AM of structures will answer both of the high-level charges from Marine leaders.

Navy leaders have been no different in their directed charge for innovation. In his 15 December 2015 memo to the Commandant of the Marine Corps and the Chief of Naval Operations, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said:

The Department of the Navy (DON) must rethink its approach to logistics in order to give the warfighting commander flexible options. The DON could benefit from incorporating advanced technologies such as advanced manufacturing, autonomous systems, and creative use of Adaptive Force Packages on existing and new platforms to transform our logistics concepts to a more agile, scalable warfighting tool.

AM of structures will bring flexibility and speed to the Navy–Marine Corps team. To be at the forefront of the Massive Size AM revolution and use it to full effect, the Sea Services must study what aspects of their missions would be most affected and would benefit most with the introduction of this technology. Two specific teams that would benefit immensely and immediately are Navy Seabees and Marine Corps engineers. If the Navy and Marine Corps have the ability to print concrete structures, on demand, would this benefit them, and if so, in what ways?

Massive Size AM

A leading pioneer in the AM of structures is Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis of the University of California. 3 According to him, after the 1994 Los Angeles earthquakes, he was patching cracks in his home’s concrete walls and had an epiphany: Why not use a simple trowel to help extrude concrete for the construction of walls and buildings? If used correctly, a home could be built in a matter of hours. Over the next two decades, he designed and patented his novel approach and is now ready to deploy a massive size concrete printer with the capability to 3D print a 2,500-square-foot house in 20 hours. Current builds made of concrete structures that use both block and foam forms take no less than four days and require a platoon-size element for construction.

The only manpower that would be required for a Massive AM machine would be two to four people to set up the machine and one to supervise the print. This operation should be compared to the 15 to 20 personnel needed to build a comparable concrete structure using a traditional approach. Dr. Khoshnevis’ technology, termed contour crafting, uses a large gantry system and a specialized extruder and feed system to print a concrete building layer by layer. Open spans, such as doors and windows, are bridged with a beam and then printed on top of it. Future advancements in the technology promise to bring the autonomous incorporation of plumbing and electrical connections in line with the larger print. It is important to note that contour crafting is ready now. This technology is not disruptive, it is revolutionary. 4

HA/DR Missions

Looking specifically at the impact Massive Size AM would have on an HA/DR mission, one immediately can see benefits. In its response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the Navy–Marine Corps team, organized under Joint Task Force Haiti (JTF-Haiti), took an active part in Operation Unified Response. 5 Falling under JTF-Haiti, the Joint Force Maritime Component Command was comprised of the USS Bataan (LHD-5) and USS Nassau (LHA-4) Amphibious Ready Groups. Phase II of the execution order is where the AM of structures would have proved invaluable. During this phase, food, water, and shelter were provided to those who needed it most.

After the earthquake, approximately two million people, one fifth of Haiti’s population, were homeless. Nongovernmental organizations were fast to distribute tents; however, this brought about large tent cities that were centers for crime and unsanitary conditions. Some thought they were doing more harm than good. 6 One study suggested that even five years after the earthquake, approximately 100,000 people still lived in these tent cities. Had a contour crafting machine been available, permanent concrete housing quickly could have been provided.

One Massive Size AM printer can print 2,500 square feet in 20–24 hours, according to USAID. 7 One person requires 100 square feet of shelter per day. So for 2,000,000 people, 2,000 machines could have printed this amount of shelter in 40 days. This of course leaves out planning for the structures and the engineering that would need to take place.

Not immediately evident is the economic benefit of ensuring safe and sanitary shelter following a natural disaster. The 2005 USAID study “conducted household surveys at three sites at which some form of emergency shelter was provided to households during the past three years in Sri Lanka, El Salvador, and Colombia. Interviews were conducted in the field during the time period of February through April of 2004.” The report goes on to note:

In all three cases, there is an increase in household welfare over time. In El Salvador, data show a multiplier of 6.2 or higher (investment of $1 million in the provision of emergency shelter results in increased income flows that are equivalent to household income increase of $6.2 million). In Colombia, a multiplier of ten or more, and in Sri Lanka (with a significantly shorter time frame—less than one year) a multiplier of 1.6–3.2.

It is therefore safe to project that any investment in the provision of shelter to a post-disaster area will yield a large multiplier in household welfare. The Navy–Marine Corps team not only would be providing shelter, it would be providing prosperity; it would figuratively be printing prosperity.

Securing order and peace after a natural or manmade disaster makes a country stronger and gives its citizens more faith in their government. This also renders the festering and growth of insurgencies more difficult and less likely. Massive Size AM therefore would assist in preventing potential wars before they start, and it would ensure a human’s requirement to survive (food, water, and shelter).

The Navy and Marine Corps would not need to wait for natural disasters to strike. A team could be formed to determine the best place to provide shelter for countries in need, coordinate with the host government, and provide that critical third leg of survival to help bring about economic gains to a country in urgent straits.

Other Applications of Massive Size AM

If Sailors and Marines were equipped with these machines capable of 3D printing, barracks-huts (b-huts) no longer would have to be made of plywood reinforced with sandbags. Concrete structures could provide greater peace of mind to those who must reside in them, and the construction could be done with minimal manpower. Runway repair and pier construction could be executed autonomously and with considerable speed. Command-and-control facilities also could be printed with all electronics imbedded. The Marine Corps and Navy would see energy savings as well. The fuel burn for air conditioning alone would be lessened because of the great insulation properties of concrete.

A little known piece of history is the use of concrete ships in World War II because of a shortage of conventional steel. Concrete still is used for the construction of barges. Sailors and Marines could print floating barges, link them together, and build bridges in a matter of days. Future designs of Massive Size AM machines include setups capable of printing pylons for bridges underwater and power windmills with a structure-climbing printer.

Risks and Barriers

The risks and barriers associated with this technology lie mostly in the supply of concrete and the structural capability of the finished product. To make concrete one needs cement, aggregate, and water. All three materials could be sourced when and where needed. Fortunately, past studies examined the use of local materials to make concrete in situ. 8 Other studies are being performed to see what materials other than concrete could be printed, such as mud and sand. 9 NASA is even studying the use of Massive Size AM for use on the Moon and Mars with soils available on those celestial landscapes. We would need to study the suitability of the printed concrete to examine its strength. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers currently is studying this with its Automated Construction of Expeditionary Structures Project. 10

Massive Size AM printers initially would serve best when attached to Navy Seabees, as they are the first units the Navy and Marine Corps Air-Ground Task Force call when construction is needed. After testing and evaluation of the strength and possibilities of Massive Size AM, the Seabees, along with the Navy Facilities Command, would need to establish a concept of operations on how best to incorporate AM into current projects and plans. Smaller printers could be used by the Marines for expeditionary base operations, to include fortifications such as machine gun nests or quick runway repair. These machines could work in the open. Doing this would reveal enemy locations if the concrete printer were to be fired on.

As with any revolutionary technology, a firm requirement does not currently exist. But the Marine Corps and the Navy do have continuing, unwritten requirements to become faster, more lethal, and less expensive. Massive AM would fill these requirements.

Massive Size AM has the potential to affect the world in a similar manner to the Internet. Where we find people using the Internet, we generally find a higher standard of living. 11 More than one-third of current urban dwellers live in slum conditions. 12 Equipping our nation’s worldwide first responders—the Marine Corps and the Navy—with Massive Size AM, we could help bring about the clean shelter revolution. Within the Marine Corps and the Navy, Massive Size AM will facilitate a capability similar to the effect of aviation on combat. This is no longer something of fantasy. Massive AM is poised to bring about lethality and efficiency to help stop wars before they start, and when those wars do start, to end them sooner and more efficiently.

1. U.S. Marine Corps, Amphibious Ready Group and Marine Expeditionary Unit Overview, www.hqmc.marines.mil/Portals/61/Docs/Amphibious_Capability.pdf .

2. LtGen William M. Faulkner, USMC, “Expeditionary Logistics for the 21st Century,” Marine Corps Gazette, October 2014, www.mca-marines.org/gazette/2014/10/expeditionary-logistics-21st-century .

3. See Behrokh Khoshnevis, www.bkhoshnevis.com/ .

4. Karissa Rosenfield, “NASA Tech Brief Awards Top Honors to Contour Crafting’s Automated Construction Methodology,” Arch Daily, 7 October 2014, www.archdaily.com/554739/nasa-tech-brief-awards-contour-crafting-s-autom... . See also USC School of Architecture, “Architecture and Viterbi join forces to win $100,000 NASA grant,” https://arch.usc.edu/news/architecture-and-viterbi-join-forces-win-10000... .

5. Gary Cecchine, et. al., The U.S. military response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake: Considerations for Army leaders, RAND Corporation Arroyo Center, 2013, www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR300/RR304/RAND_RR3... .

6. Associated Press, “Haiti’s homeless get tarps, want tents,” 13 February 2010, http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/world/2010-02-13-haiti-homeless-tarp... . See also C. H. Logie, “Exploring Unintended Social Side Effects of Tent Distribution Practices in Post-Earthquake Haiti,” Stability: International Journal of Security & Development, September 2013, www.stabilityjournal.org/articles/10.5334/sta.ck/ .

7. Richard Hill and Stephen Sheppard, “Economic Impact of Shelter Assistance in Post-Disaster Settings,” U.S. Agency for International Development, 2005, www.humanitarianlibrary.org/resource/economic-impact-shelter-assistance-... .

8. A. J. Al-Tayyib, M. H. Baluch, A. F. M. Sharif, and M. M. Mahamud, “The effect of thermal cycling on the durability of concrete made from local materials in the Arabian Gulf countries,” Cement and Concrete Research, vol. 19, no. 1, (January 1989), 131-142, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0008884689900732 . See also J. M. Shilstone Sr., and J. M. Shilstone Jr., “Performance-based concrete mixtures and specifications for today,” American Concrete Institute, Concrete International (February 2002), https://trid.trb.org/view.aspx?id=708334 .

9. Nick Lavars, “Wasp’s 3D printers produce low-cost houses made from mud,” www.gizmag.com/wasp-3d-printers-house-mud/34340/ . See also Filip Visnjic, “StoneSpray—3D Printing with Sand,” Creative Applications Network (9 August 2012), www.creativeapplications.net/android/stonespray-3d-printing-with-sand/ .

10. R. G. Clinton Jr., “Development and Certification of Additive Manufacturing Materials for Human-Rated Launch Vehicles and In Space Manufacturing, NASA (6 October 2015), http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20150021450.pdf .

11. James Manyika and Charles Roxburgh, “The Great Transformer: The Impact of the Internet on Economic Growth and Prosperity,” McKinsey Global Institute (October 2011), http://petrofed.winwinhosting.net/newsletter/WR-229_04Nov11/w229_21.pdf .

12. Anna Tibaijuka and Ban Ki-Moon, Building Prosperity: The Centrality of Housing in Economic Development (London: Earthscan Publications, 2009), 166.

Captain Friedell is currently the Additive Manufacturing Lead at Marine Corps Systems Command. He holds a master’s degree in modeling and virtual environments simulation from the Naval Postgraduate School and a degree in economics from Colorado State University. He joined the Marine Corps in 2009.


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