Researchers at the Army Research Laboratory are busy trying to come up with ways that can enable them to 3D print ceramic materials. Why? Because the US Military wants to 3D print body armor for its soldiers. The idea is that the units would be able to 3D print body armor themselves, thus ceasing the complex supply process.
As opposed to plastics and metals, ceramics are much harder to 3D print. On the other hand, they are a critical component of the body armor that is designed to safeguard soldiers from shrapnel and bullets on the battlefield. ARL researchers are looking into the graded nature of an abalone shell – it is built layer upon layer over time by the single-shell mollusk – for inspiration.
The researchers at the ARL are opting for a 3D printing approach that enables them to create high-density ceramics. The density of the ceramic material is what will allow the shattering of the incoming projectiles. The idea is to 3D print body armor that is not only tougher but also lighter as opposed to the current ceramic body armor.
The ability to 3D print body armor, once achieved, will prove to be highly beneficial to the US Military. Instead of going through the long and tiring process of procuring countless sets of armor and then supplying them, the Military could simply take a soldier’s measurements and then use a 3D printer to get the body armor ready. This would also curb the wasted body armor, and there will not be any delay in terms of the supply chain fulfilling the orders.
The research is still undergoing and has to create a 3D printed body armor. However, the primary issue that the research is trying to tackle is making sure that it gets the manufacturing process of the ceramics right. Once that has been achieved, 3D printing the ceramic would be quite easy.