War and 3D printing

By Dr Juan Schutte, R&D engineer at UoA’s Creative Design and Additive Manufacturing Lab

The war in the Ukraine once again highlighted humanity’s tendency towards acts of unnecessary violence and cruelty. Much like the initial outbreaks of Covid-19, the supply of aid is put in jeopardy by the surrounding hazardous environment.

3D printing has a historical relationship with warfare, given that its prolific outbreak as a “disruptive technology” was furthered by sensationalised media including the now famous debate of ‘can anyone with a printer manufacture an unregulated gun?’. While many renditions of a 3D printable ‘gun’ have been derived, much of these can be disregarded as the use of explosive media in commercially accessible material extrusion 3D printers tends to have a higher chance of exploding in your hand than hitting a target. Additionally, the notion that you can acquire more dangerous/effective means for malicious activity from your local hardware stores at a much cheaper and faster rate tends to discredit this particular case.

That being said, 3D printing’s ability for topology optimisation and part consolidation has yielded dramatic benefits in increasing the efficiency and production of military tools such as drones that can be optimised similarly to examples seen in aerospace rocket and satellite optimisation. Lighter infantry equipment loads also increase the opportunities for lowering power consumption requirements for robotics-based solutions which could help remove individuals from dangerous environments.

3D printings on-site/remote manufacturing can be used to create spare or upgraded parts allowing military and healthcare research and development to have more immediate effects. Examples include doctors without borders use of the technology to provide solutions/treatments customised to local needs.

From a pacifists viewpoint, it must be noted that 3D printing can be no more demonized than the hammers, anvils or CNCs found in greater number all around the world. These are merely tools in the hands of individuals and are not inherently “evil”. Unfortunately, it seems the same cannot be said about the economic and political powers who continue to treat and use people as tools, allowing 18-year-old conscripted soldiers to die and children to be robbed of their youth forcing them to live in fear.  

Dr. Juan Schutte works at the University of Auckland’s Creative Design and Additive Manufacturing Lab as an R&D Engineer consulting with industry and academia on the opportunities of 3D printing.

The information and opinions within this column are not necessarily the views or opinions of Xpress Engineer NZ, NZ Engineering News or the parent company, Hayley Media.