Army plans to build the world’s largest metal 3D printer

The Army’s new metal printer will be able to build vehicle hulls and other large structures.



The U.S. DEVCOM Army Ground Vehicle Systems Center (GVSC) has ordered a metal 3D printer capable of printing parts up to 30 ft. long by 20 ft. wide by 12 ft. high. According to an article posted to the U.S. Army website, it reportedly will be the world’s largest metal printer and will be used to additively manufacture parts for military ground vehicles.

Called the Jointless Hull project, the effort is being coordinated and led by prime contractor Applied Science & Technology Research Organization (ASTRO America), a nonprofit formed to advance American competitiveness in key defense industries. The organization will work with subcontractors Ingersoll Machine Tool, Siemens, and MELD Manufacturing to manufacture the hull-scale machine.

The printer is expected to take 14 months to complete and will be installed at and operated by Rock Island Arsenal - Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center. A smaller version of the printer—capable of producing parts 3 by 4 by 5 ft.—will be housed at GVSC’s Detroit Arsenal Prototype Integration Facility. It will be used for developmental work in support of the larger machine.

“This effort will greatly expand the size envelope and our capability to make large parts that are typically required for ground vehicles,” said GVSC additive manufacturing expert Dr. Aaron LaLonde. “Readiness is one of the main drivers and benefits that will be realized out of this effort, as the tool will be capable of supporting sustainment activities on a wide range of parts and in time frames that will improve readiness.”

Monolithic hulls for combat vehicles have well-established advantages, especially in survivability and weight savings, but traditional manufacturing processes are not cost-effective or adaptable to full production, especially when multiple vehicle platforms are considered.

“There are a lot of big, heavy metal parts within the Army inventory that additive manufacturing is not even an option to make simply because they don’t fit within the build envelope of the current machines available in industry,” said GVSC Materials Division Advanced Manufacturing Branch Chief Joseph Kott. “This new machine will provide Rock Island Arsenal with an additive capability that doesn’t exist anywhere else, to not only produce parts for the Army but also across the DOD.”

The Army’s 3D printer will build metal parts up to 30 ft. long by 20 ft. wide by 12 ft. high.