These days, nearly every military operation requires the support of sensitive gear that must arrive on site in pristine condition. Examples include radar tracking equipment, unmanned drones and controllers, munitions and detonation devices, armament inspection tools, telecommunications systems, and many others.
For the operation to be successful, the gear must be ready for rapid deployment with zero potential for damage from exposure to water, dust, vibration, or breakage during transport.
To accomplish this, every branch of the United States military uses a variety of different hard-shell protective cases and repurposed watertight ammunition canisters.
These are lined with injection molded foam-based inserts that are laser cut to precisely match the case size and object geometry for a snug fit while in transit.
This is an effective solution, but not without its limitations:
- Lead time: Molds must be created for every case shape, size, and object, an expensive and lengthy process. When the profile of an object or case changes even slightly — a common occurrence — a new mold must be produced. It takes months to complete development of an updated case insert using traditional methods.
- Vendor churn: The custom nature of each insert means every military branch must repeatedly go through the vendor bid process and award a contract for every insert. This extends time to development, inflates costs, and adds red tape to every project.
- Deterioration: Most importantly, typical foam-based or Styrofoam insert materials notoriously deteriorate over time. Constant handling and exposure to extreme weather conditions cause inserts to suffer from dry rot. They rip and tear easily, absorb moisture, and capture dust, resulting in frequent replacement. Further, these materials are not ESD-safe.
The U.S. Department of Defense turned to Essentium and additive manufacturing (AM) to bring 3D printed custom inserts production in-house to help overcome design, material, and sourcing challenges.
AM 3D printed custom inserts for speedy insert design, easy modifications, and long-lasting polymers
After scanning an object for a 3D rendering, its digital profile is integrated into a CAD file matching the case dimensions. Indentations exactly corresponding to the object(s) geometry create a snug fit without the time and cost of creating a mold (Figure A).
There’s no waste, no material to cut away, and slight changes are easily accommodated. A new or modified insert can be printed in-house in a matter of hours for just the cost of filament.
Whereas current suppliers offer a limited choice of foam rubber or Styrofoam insert material, Essentium offers a wide spectrum of engineering-grade polymers, each with different characteristics to match a specific application, customizing transportation options for every type of component.
Far superior to foam-based materials, there are rigid filaments that provide a solid bed for hard goods, and soft, flexible filaments to cushion and provide vibration isolation for more sensitive equipment.
Essentium materials can be infused with different properties to print ESD-safe inserts for electronic component transport, for example, and Essentium filaments resist the effects of dry rot, dust, water, and temperature variations that tend to damage typical foam-based insert materials. Essentium polymer-based 3D printed inserts are longer lasting, less expensive, faster to produce, and easily customizable.
In this example, holes were drilled into the insert after printing to create rope handles that safely lift the equipment out and return it to the case (Figure B).
Try doing that with foam rubber!
Skip the molds
Bringing production of customized case inserts to the point of need shortens development cycles, eliminates third party vendors, and improves mission readiness.
Plus, the large build volume of the Essentium HSE 3D Printing Platform provides the versatility to print inserts for a multitude of case sizes and component geometries in one piece, using one machine, with materials optimized for the job at hand — no molds required.
Essentium’s unique combination of high speed extrusion technology and engineering-grade materials can replace the cumbersome, costly, and time consuming processes traditionally used to create customized inserts for sensitive equipment.