United States Marines Use AM for New Vehicle Maintenance Tool

Published on June 23, 2021 by Madeleine P.
Marines AM

Once again the American military is turning to additive manufacturing (AM) for innovative applications to help them in the field. This time, Marine Corps System Command’s (MCSC) Advanced Manufacturing Operations Cell (AMOC) has helped to develop a 3D printed metal steering wheel removal device in collaboration with the 1st Supply Battalion and industry partners. The new tool will enable Marines to remove the steering wheel during routine maintenance without damaging it, ensuring that the car will not need to be put out of service.

Though it seems like a niche issue, the Marines often have to remove the steering wheel columns for the Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement and Logistics Vehicle System Replacement, namely while conducting basic vehicle maintenance. However, the tool they are currently provided with is a 10-way slide hammer. Unfortunately, with that particular tool, users need to apply a significant amount of pressure to the steering wheel column, often breaking or damaging it. In order to replace the steering wheel, a replacement part must be ordered, meaning the vehicle will be out of service for about 25 days. One frustrated soldier chose to make a solution, eventually using AM to design a tool that could be used by any Marine hoping to prevent costly delays.

Inside the steering wheel (photo credits: Gunnery Sgt. Michele Hunt/USMC)

Of course, if you need to make an innovative tool, additive manufacturing is the way to go. Though the original prototype, made by Staff Sgt. Kyle Owens, a motor transportation chief with 1st Marine Logistics Group, was made using scrap metal and washers, in 2012, this year he was able to collaborate with his unit’s innovation officer to make a prototype using AM. The first iterations of the tool were made out of polymers as most of the Marine’s 3D printers use the material. Once a form, fit and function check of the final polymer tool was completed, they turned to metal AM to create the final prototype.

The finished, ready-to-print design was approved by the AMOC and added to MCSC’s additive manufacturing digital repository. Though AM is still a relatively new tool for the USMC, the work of the AMOC has helped to make it more common. Currently, there are about 500 replacement parts designed by Marines that are included in the database, and the steering wheel removal device has been added as an enterprise-wide Marine Corps solution. Anyone interested in printing can make the tool with their own printer.

It makes sense that the soldiers turned to AM to make the final versions of the tool. Not only is the technology is becoming more popular within the USMC because of the flexibility and speed it allows, but by creating a 3D printable design, anyone can make the part on their own, not just helping to reduce production costs but also meaning that soldiers on the move may also be able to create the part (though only if they have the necessary equipment and materials on hand).

This is not the first time the Marines have used AM. Increasingly they have turned to the technology thanks to its flexibility and cost-effectiveness. (Photo Credits: Photo by Kaitlin Kelly/U.S. Marine Corps)

Captain Matthew Audette, project officer at MCSC elaborated: “We’re always talking about how Marines move toward the sound of gunfire. If we open up that aperture a little bit, we can say Marines move toward the sound of problems, and they solve those problems. Additive manufacturing lowers the barrier to entry for physically making that solution.” You can find out more about the steering wheel tool and AM in the USMC in the press release HERE.

What do you think of the Marine’s 3D printed vehicle maintence tool? Let us know in a comment below or on our Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn pages! Sign up for our free weekly Newsletter here, the latest 3D printing news straight to your inbox!

*Thumbnail Photo Credits: Gunnery Sgt. Michele Hunt/USMC

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