Topological Interlocking Structures. (Image of the U.S. Army Research Laboratory)
Topological Interlocking Structures. (Image of the U.S. Army Research Laboratory)

Research engineers at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and Purdue University are investigating the use of 3D printing in combat environments for instant damage repair on aircraft or ground vehicles.

Researchers found that combining the general purpose, finite-element analysis software ABAQUS with Python, an open-source code used to optimize logical structures such as topologically interlocked structures, improves energy absorption and dissipation, productivity and lower maintenance costs.

Ed Habtour, a research engineer with ARL’s Vehicle Technology Directorate at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md, believed that a combination of ABAQUS and Python could provide an automated process for auto-generation of the geometries, models, materials assignments and code execution of a vehicle.

Although the main reason for the technology is to help designers, Habtour did say “The benefit for the Soldier is an after-effect. The TIS would provide an excellent energy absorption and dissipation mechanism for future vehicles using additive manufacturing,” Habtour said. “Subsequently, the Soldier can print these structures in the field using additive manufacturing by simply downloading the model generated by the designer/vendor.”

The team behind the research project used logical structures from the mini-composition of tetrahedron-shaped cells in existing materialsan. ARL engineers say that this is a departure from the typical military tendency of building new materials to suit existing issues.

Topological Interlocking Structures. (Image of the U.S. Army Research Laboratory)
Topological Interlocking Structures. (Image of the U.S. Army Research Laboratory)

“Traditionally, every time the U.S. Army encounters a problem in the field the default has been to develop new and exotic materials. Using logical structures can be effective in solving some critical and challenging problems, like the costly and time-consuming certification process that all new materials must face,” Habtour said.

Apparently the researchers main focus is on “topologically interlocked structures using VTD’s 3-D additive manufacturing approach to build 2-D and 3-D structures based on cells in the shape of Platonic solids.”

The structures that are created from the new technology are designed to adapt and configure to harsh conditions such as random and harmonic vibrations, thermal loads, repetitive shocks due to road bumps, crash and acoustic attenuation said Habtour. An extra bonus of this technology is the ability to prevent crack propagation in the new structures.

“Sometime in the near future, Soldiers would be able to fabricate and repair these segmented structures very easily in the front lines or Forward Operating Bases, so instead of moving damaged ground or air vehicles to a main base camp for repair, an in-field repair approach would essentially mean vehicles would be fixed and accessible to warfighters much faster at lower costs,” said Habtour.

“We want to change the conventional thinking by taking advantage of exciting materials and manipulating the structure based on the principle of segmentation and assembly.”

Hopefully this sort of technology will trickle down to everyday consumers eventually. We can only imagine the sort of creations and structures that could be created.