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Army to print guns, grenades, and more with new 3D system

  • Jan. 30, 2013: A sniper team scans the area outside of a leaders' shura from a rooftop in Afghanistan. A new Army initiative may revolutionize the supply chain for weapons and other resources, making it faster and cheaper.

    Jan. 30, 2013: A sniper team scans the area outside of a leaders' shura from a rooftop in Afghanistan. A new Army initiative may revolutionize the supply chain for weapons and other resources, making it faster and cheaper.  (Staff Sgt. Shane Hamann / U.S. Army)

  • Jan. 30, 2013: An example of fully annotated 3D modeling for computed aided design.

    Jan. 30, 2013: An example of fully annotated 3D modeling for computed aided design.  (U.S. Army)

Engineers are revolutionizing the way troops get the weapons they need, taking the old 2D system of restocking into the third dimension -- and simultaneously making the process faster and cheaper.

To obtain a wide range of parts, from grenade safety pins and trigger assemblies to turret parts and cannon breeches, the Army currently reaches out to manufacturers with an "official product representation," a technical data package or TDP. These include 2D drawings, basic dimensions and tolerances and other data, and manufacturers use them to set up production.

The manufacturing world works with 3D data however, and modern machines use the computer aided design (CAD) language, meaning manufacturers take the Army's 2D data and convert it to a 3D CAD format. This conversion process could take a team a week or more, and the government picks up the tab.

But thanks to a joint Picatinny Arsenal and Aberdeen Proving Ground Army Research Laboratory project, the Army can now provide manufacturers with part specifications in an interactive 3D format that can be easily read by modern machines.

The goal was to replace 2D PDFs with new versions that include a 3D visualization and the product manufacturing data.

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In fact, they Army went beyond 3D: While the new TDPs include every detail about the part, the document didn’t have any information on how to make it.

The team has created not just a 3D TDP, but also incorporated a step-by-step guide to how specific tools can be used to make the necessary parts.

Particularly in gun manufacturing, the Army may require a manufacturer to produce unusual shapes; this innovation allows them to explain how exactly to make it -- reducing room for error.

After an Army weapon is put together it will be sent into service, potentially for decades in very tough environmental conditions. During this time, a weapon often needs replacement parts and upgrades.

The team is also creating guides that explain how to assemble parts into future equipment like weapons to ensure that throughout the service lifetime they can be easily fixed and upgraded.

In the future, will they output ordinance too?

Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has traveled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at wargames@foxnews.com or follow her on Twitter @Allison_Barrie.

Allison Barrie is a defense specialist with experience in more than 70 countries who consults at the highest levels of defense and national security, a lawyer with four postgraduate degrees, and author of the definitive guide, Future Weapons: Access Granted, on sale in 30 countries.  Barrie hosts the new hit podcast “Tactical Talk”  where she gives listeners direct access to the most fascinating Special Operations warriors each week and to find out more about the FOX Firepower host and columnist you can click here or follow her on Twitter @allison_barrie and Instagram @allisonbarriehq.