Military Repair Depots Eye Flying Robots, 3D Printing to Improve Ops

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Marines with 2nd Maintenance Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group demonstrate their 3-D printing capabilities during Exercise Bold Alligator 17 at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Oct. 26, 2017 (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Abrey D. Liggins)
Marines with 2nd Maintenance Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group demonstrate their 3-D printing capabilities during Exercise Bold Alligator 17 at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Oct. 26, 2017 (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Abrey D. Liggins)

They may operate in World War II-era buildings, but many U.S. Army and Marine Corps equipment repair depots are turning to robotics and other modern technology to keep up with the future force.

Army and Marine logistics officials briefed lawmakers from the House Armed Services Committee today on how both services are modernizing their operations.

Members of the readiness subcommittee wanted to know how the services are attempting to upgrade the outdated systems used for everything from tracking logistics to repairing the armored vehicles, trucks and aircraft the U.S. military's ground combat forces rely on every day.

Marine Brig. Gen. Joseph Shrader, the new commander of Marine Corps Logistics Command, told lawmakers he wants to use robotics to modernize the Corps' logistics operations.

He said he had a vision of a warehouse that used radio frequency identification tags to sort inventory items, and a set of robots, either flying drones or ground-based unmanned systems, to scan and identify items.

"As it moves, it can just scan; it feeds into a [command-and-control] system that has everything loaded into it ... and you know, instantly, what you have on the shelves, what condition it is in, what needs to be ordered," he said.

Marine Corps Logistics Command is also using digital manufacturing in its operations, Shrader said.

"We are investing in innovative and advanced manufacturing capabilities such as 3D printing and laser scanning technologies in an effort to augment the repair part supply chain, improve response time and drive down cost," Shrader said.

Army Lt. Gen. Aundre Piggee, deputy chief of staff for Army G4, said 3D printers are also very useful to his operation.

"We have 3D printing available in 16 of our depots today; when our supply chain is not able to provide the necessary repair parts in a timely manner, we have found that we can 3D-print parts, which reduces the amount of time we wait for our supply system," Piggee said. "We have also found that we can 3D-print special tools in some cases, again allowing us to be more effective and efficient."

Several lawmakers expressed concern about the large number of World War II-era facilities the Army uses and how the service plans to modernize them.

In addition to military construction funding, Piggee said the Army is allowing his command to use operations and maintenance funding to upgrade facilities.

"We plan to increase our infrastructure investments, strategically allocating those resources available to modernize the most antiquated, unreliable and inefficient machinery and buildings," he said.

Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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