ExOne this week announced that the U.S. Department of Defense has granted it $1.6 million. It’s one of the Pennsylvania-based metal 3D printing company’s largest government contracts, in service of building a portable 3D printing factory for the front line — essentially a method for troops to fabricate broken and missing parts where they need them the most.
“Over the last two years, we’ve really focused on providing our technology into government-type applications: DoD, NASA, DoE,” CEO John Hartner tells TechCrunch. “Sometimes people talk about disrupting the supply chain and getting decentralized manufacturing. This is decentralized and forward deployed, if you will. Be it an emergency, humanitarian mission or frontlines for a war fighter.”
The money from the grant will specifically go toward R&D and building the first unit.
The system combines a series of machines with a software layer designed to lower the barrier of entry for use. While some training will be required, the hope is that people will be able to operate the system in the field.
“We’ve ruggedized the products that are going inside,” says Hartner. “There’s an element of software that makes the whole thing easier to use together. You start with scanning. So, there’s a possibility that you print from a cloud-based repository, but that may not be available for whatever reason, so you may have a broken part that you can scan and do some digital repair to the file and print.”
The devices rely on binder jet printing, the core tech behind ExOne’s machines. The system essentially composites powder, layer by layer to build up an object. ExOne expects to deliver the first system by Q3 2022. If all goes well, the parties will discuss further partnerships going forward.