The US Air Force Wants Your 3D Scanner Ideas

One key piece of technology from Star Trek is the replicator, a machine that 3D prints up almost anything using some hazily-defined high technology. You have to wonder though, how did the patterns for Earl Grey tea or a spare part for a shuttlecraft intercooler come to exist in the first place. Maybe someone designed them, or perhaps they scanned the real articles. The US Air Force is betting on the latter, and they’ve asked for white papers and proposals for innovative methods to scan objects for 3D printing.

It isn’t surprising military planners would like to have effective 3D printing. After all, you can’t carry every spare part you might need into a theater of operation. Not to mention spares for your friends in joint operations or for enemy gear you might happen to capture. Having a truck that could turn out whatever your troops need is an attractive proposition.

We’re curious though, a printer you are likely to haul out to a forward operating base will probably print using filament, and while that is great, we all know there are limitations to parts you create with these machines.

Still, maybe they envision giant industrial metal or ceramic printers that would airdrop parts anywhere in the world in a day or two. The objectives are ambitious:

  • Demonstrate a cutting edge automated 3-D scanning system capable of quickly and accurately scanning complex Additive Manufacturing candidate parts to produce 3-D models. The solution should address any anticipated hardware and software tools necessary to scan parts with complex geometry, various surface color and reflectivity, and provide a means to address part geometry that cannot typically be scanned; e.g. blind holes and internal/hidden geometry.
  • The innovative solution sought will be able to process scan data quickly and efficiently and require minimal human interaction during the scanning, modeling and data processing. The proposed solution should address its ability to fully operate and be able to be updated while not connected to an internet source. Additionally, it should be sized to accept, manipulate and process parts of at least 500mm in diameter, height of 1000mm
    and weight of at least 50 kilograms

So automated, high-resolution scanning for very large and heavy parts. You can deduce a little about the printer they imagine, after all, 50 kilos of PLA is probably bigger than the specified build volume.

If you want to get in on the action, you had better hurry. White papers are due soon. We don’t see much 3D printing for jet fighters, but we do see a lot for RC aircraft. Some of them are quite advanced.


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