Over the past year, Austin-based Icon has been working with the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), an organization that focuses on accelerating commercial tech into the Department of Defense, to demonstrate the use of commercial scale additive manufacturing for military use. This is the latest test of 3D concrete printing for the DoD, which fabricated a field-grade bunker with a 3-in. nozzle, and a Marine Corps units’ barrack and bridge structure with a 2-in. assembly last fall in Champaign, Ill.
Icon has been prototyping various structures with DIU and USMC utilizing the technology that combines 3D robotics, software and advanced material. In January 2020, Marines were trained on the software, robotics and material delivery sub-systems at Icon’s lab with the goal of a future field demonstration to build structures important for expeditionary construction.
After the successful training session, the teams embarked on a journey out of the lab and into the field to 3D print and stand up a 26- x 13- x 15-ft. vehicle hide structure at Camp Pendleton in California. With only a few hours of field training and shadowing Icon operators on site, the Marines took over as the primary operators of Icon’s Vulcan 3D printer and Magma automated material delivery system. The technology provides tablet-based system controls that allow even brand new operators to deliver high-quality printing.
“There are commercial technologies that provide one area of excellence in robotic building, but few that tie all the necessary aspects together in a way that makes construction instantly accessible to the novice without any software engineer training,” says Jeremiah Diacogiannis, DIU program manager, U.S. Navy Lt. “The design of new structures, from shelters to bridges, can be done in less time and with fewer hands via simple, intuitive commands on a touchscreen tablet or smartphone and executed by the robotics system at the push of a button.”
At the onset of the project, the goal was to complete the print in 40 to 48 hours, with some expected loss of productivity for troubleshooting while getting the Marines up to speed. Some recent automation upgrades that increased the precision of the material delivery system paid huge dividends, and the print was completed in 36 hours with virtually zero troubleshooting time.
“We were thrilled to have the opportunity to hand over the controls of our technology to the USMC. This marked the first time non-Icon employees were the primary operators of our equipment and they did an incredible job printing the vehicle hide structure,” says Michael Harper, director of Field Operations for Icon. “After getting a glimpse of what 3D printing can accomplish, the Marines had great ideas for other applications of this technology, and we can’t wait to assist in making those ideas become a reality.”
“The unique opportunity to provide cutting-edge tools to improve the mission capabilities of the Marine Corps and watch them take the reins with the technology this past month makes us proud,” said Dmitri Julius, vice president of Operations at Icon. “As a retired USMC Veteran, I am honored to work with this storied organization. Our desire is to have a continued long term partnership to put 3D printers in the hands of Marines in garrison and down range. The humanitarian applications are also endless and the ability to build useful structures for our bravest service men and women is truly tremendous.”