This is probably one of the very few topics I may be able to add value here on Hacker News.
As a service, the USMC are approaching bottom up innovation very seriously. https://mobile.twitter.com/marinemakers
The USAF is also very active in bottom up innovation.
Another program is Hacking 4 Defense founded by Steve Blank, Pete Newell, and Joe Felter(leave of absence now performing role of US Assistant Undersecretary of Defence for South & Southeast Asia).
Pete Newell(retired Army Colonel) stood up the Rapid Equipping Force a numbe of years ago to rapidly accelerate the development and deployment of tools to mitigate IED related casualties.
Hacking 4 Defense(H4D) is running across a growing number of University campus to solve complex Defense problems using the Lean Start Up methodology using a modified lean canvas called the Mission Model Canvas.
I am working to expand the use of H4D/MMC down here in Australasia.
Happy to share more if anyone is interested.
It’s great to see Marines given the latitude to experiment.
It’s also great to see the often inaccurate stereotypes of Marines being rigidly disciplined and inflexible in thinking give way to the reality that Marines have very often conducted comprehensive tactical experimentation and innovation.
An army officer once gave me an amazing rundown of the ways deployed units have to recreate so many layers of infrastructure we take for granted. Military units really have to carry a whole version of their civilization with them, and how long they can maintain it determines their effectiveness (which is why most of military history is about logistics improvements creating newly dominant forces).
The challenges have a lot in common with space travel - not surprising that 3D printing has spurred so much imagination on both sides.
Side note: there's a quote in the article where Gen. Walters is envying what young engineers can do with this stuff. That's one of my favorite signals for tech that's not hype -- when it makes successful pros wish they were born a little later.
The only hitch? The parts weren’t approved for installation on an aircraft. “I said, put the button on,” Neller told the National Defense Industrial Association last week. “Print a bag of them and hang them there.”
This is a great story about disruption. The Marines seem to be on top of trying to continue thinking outside the box. That turns out to be very difficult to do in any large, old organization. I heard an interview with the Commandant last week. They asked him what kind of tech he wanted most.
Bingo. Better batteries would change everything, not just the Marine Corps. There are few technologies like batteries. Cost-to-orbit tech is one of them. If we change those technologies, we change the entire rest of the economy. I believe the service used to call things like that "force multipliers". It's neat to see 3D printing _perhaps_ becoming a force multiplier in many areas.
Putting on my cynic hat, expect to see a lot of pushback form the establishment where this technology disrupts the most. Those folks with button standards aren't going to go down peacefully.
The more each marine knows and the more tools each has at his/her disposable, the more flexible each individual and unit will be. Flexibility can be important in fighting.
A Marine unit with multiple materials and multiheaded 3D printers could print more than replacement parts for downed war fighting machinery. Specific weapons or other gear could be adapted to fit the situation.
For example, a particular part isn't working (like the altimeter in the previous comment) due to poor design in bad testing. Marines with access to the raw CAD files of the part could modify the cowling/housing shape to make it more visible. The finished model could be stress tested in a physics modeling program. When it passes, a metal part could be printed and installed. A thermistor could even be added to provide heat to stop frosting. If it works in one plane, it could be duplicated to the whole squadron. And this quick adaptability in changing design method could be applied to anything: backpacks that are the incorrect shape and cause backpain, bump stocks that cause damage on the recoil, or a new water checkvalve screen could be designed to better force water out of soaked boots and stop foot rot. The design work could even happen remotely back on the mainland with more design resources.
This could happen within 24hrs from a supply unit stationed just off the front lines doing most of the work. At the end of a 6month engagement, the vehicles, equipment and gear could all be substantially different than how they started.
This extreme adaptability could end up being a huge advantage.
I love the Commandant's attitude. He seems to get it.
I've come across many Marines in my personal history as a diplomat brat (Marines protect all US Embassies abroad) and worker (the best boss I've ever had is a Marine). I've only met one I don't respect and/or admire, and he was drunk and belligerent on the Metro (not towards anyone in particular, just being a loud ass).
From contracting with the Air Force, I can tell you that they have a love affair with spending money. Most of the projects I seen revolved around making sure everyone spent as much as possible, so that they could get more.
I'm imagining climbing into a helicopter and seeing the panel with buttons and switches that were printed in various bright colors - whatever they had on hand when each part was made - and thinking I'm flying with Fisher Price.
In an era where global overnight civilian shipping is taken for granted, that it takes the military so long to ship parts that 3D printing parts of questionable ability to meet spec is considered an "innovative" solution is just more evidence that the military's logistics are sad and ineffective.
Forget buttons for a second, the article references fans that took a week to 3D print.
Yes, the military has to special-order a wide variety of parts and products with no civilian market. This makes the argument that some products may be more expensive. If the cost of manufacturing can be dramatically decreased through 3D printing, then properly account for cost by front-loading R&D costs, open-sourcing the designs which were developed with public money, and buying from the cheapest contractor which meets spec. If that contractor uses 3D printing to offer the lowest cost, cool. If lowest cost doesn't require 3D printing, who cares? Buy more than the military needs, but not so much as to be inordinately wasteful, to keep the part constantly in stock across a variety of globally distributed warehouses close enough to people who would need that part to be able to deliver requested parts within a week. It's a hard problem to be sure but more or less solvable (for reasonable optimizations in the absence of a constantly renewing solution to an NP complete problem).
Yes, the military has to be able to supply forces in areas where no civilian infrastructure exists. And if you want to argue for 3D printers somewhere like Antarctica where supplies can only be delivered for a few months of summer out of the whole year then that would make sense. If you want to argue that setting up a full warehouse with all parts which may ultimately prove necessary in a brand-new FOB in a war zone is at the very least a very difficult problem because of the difficulty of keeping track of everything that goes into that FOB not to mention keeping sufficient stock levels then I may agree with you. Arguing that it's reasonable to wait for months or even more than a year for parts to be delivered from a warehouse in the continental US to large, major, permanent bases located within the continental US? No, hell no, no freaking way, no way to excuse that other than general incompetence.
Militaries are never going to be nearly as efficient or as quick as UPS / FedEx / DHL for all their usecases. And that's fine. But taxpayers should not allow that to serve as an excuse for perennially poor logistics performance relative to what should be expected in comparison to the private sector.
Another use would be 3D printed surgical instruments. There is already a proof of concept paper written on this topic:
Brilliant. In some cases you don't want someone tearing apart a $300k radio to figure out what's wrong with it, but on the other hand, a small fix to save $20k is awesome.
When I was in the Marine Corps, we didn't need a 3D printer, we just improvised.
Best job I have ever had.