Photo Information

A 3D printed door handle is installed on a Humvee during Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., in Oct. 2016. Marine Wing Support Squadron (MWSS) 372 used a 3D printer to create a door handle to test the limits of innovation with the new 3D printing capability. (Courtesy Photo)

Photo by Sgt. Brytani Wheeler

MWSS-372 advances unit innovation with 3D printing

15 Mar 2018 | Sgt. Brytani Wheeler 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

The idea started with a Humvee door handle and MWSS-372 asked itself what more they could do to benefit the squadron during Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course in October 2016. This led MWSS-372 to take action on the commandant’s push to experiment with 3D printing. Following WTI, the squadron later deployed with Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response – Central Command (SPMATG-CR-CC) and worked alongside 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, which had two, then four, then seven 3D printers.

“We owe a lot to 7th Marines for getting us started,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Benny Lane, MWSS-372 utilities officer. “We were told to push the boundaries of what you can do with this technology, as long as it’s of a professional nature.”

After printing the Humvee door handle in less than an hour, Marines realized how great this tool would be to help in the future.

“We started to understand how it works to take an idea, create a digital representation and see the actual physical manifestation of it through 3D printing,” said Lane. “Which, I don’t want to say it was easy, but it’s definitely quicker and more efficient than going out in town to get it made.”

Because of the quick turnaround time of 3D printing and to avoid the struggle of finding funding available for purchasing through an outside organization, the Marines started coming up with several ideas of items to print.

“That’s one of the great things we found,” said Lane. “We could come up with an idea for something and we can run through five, six or seven renditions of it in a few days to find the right way to make the product effectively.”

At the time, 7th Marines was pushing the initiative to find a way to make the 3D printer a logistics function to help unburden the logistics needs.

MWSS, whose mission is to supply the aircraft unit’s with supplies and maintenance, knew this capability could help them get the equipment they need to improve unit readiness. It could also help motor transport get vehicles up and running quicker and maybe even a new way to get intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance footage on the enemy.

It allows Marines to take what they think is a good idea and make it a reality, said Capt. Marc Blair, MWSS-372 operations officer.

The most relevant part of 3D printing is the capability to print off a large amount of replacement parts but the “hidden” part MWSS wants to expound on is really building an innovation-type culture.

“What we found is the number of doors you open through printing is truly awesome,” said Blair.

Currently, MWSS-372 is focusing on how the program and the operations of the printer work to better employ it in the future with any idea the Marines present which could help make their jobs easier with the right tools readily available.

Lane highlighted how the knowledge of one Marine could potentially help all the Marines in a specific Military Occupational Specialty.

The Marines can take their daily knowledge of an item they know constantly breaks, then apply that specific MOS knowledge to the 3D printer capability and develop a design to submit to Headquarters, Marine Corps as a means to bring exposure to a capability within an MOS community in order to potentially help units down the road, said Lane.

“We’d like to see the unit and the Marines receive training, run with their ideas and start producing their ideas,” said Lane. “Then, they can teach other Marines how to use the program so this can continue to help the unit and the Marine Corps as a whole.”

The possibilities with 3D printing are endless and Blair hopes the Marines grasp how big the options are to really take this capability and apply it to the maximum of its potential.

“If you want to build a truly innovative organization in the 21st century, Marines need to be told here is a tool, here is how to use it, here is some training, and then be allowed wide open left and right lateral limits, and be asked now what can you do with this thing,” said Blair.

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