I wrote a story on Military.com today that takes a look at the Army’s new Expeditionary Lab – Mobile, a 20-foot shipping container filled with advanced, rapid-prototyping equipment designed to be dropped anywhere on the battlefield.
The Army’s Rapid Equipping Force deployed the first of these new labs, complete with two MacGyver-type engineers, to Afghanistan’s RC-South to help soldiers find on-the-spot fixes to equipment problems.
“It’s really difficult to connect the guy who is building the product to the kid who really needed it to begin with, so what we went after is to connect the scientist to the soldier,” said REF Commander Col. Pete Newell. “Rather than bringing the soldier home to the scientist, we have uprooted the scientist and the engineer and brought them to the soldier.”
The labs cost about $2.8 million each and include state-of-the-art equipment such as a Rapid Prototyping 3D Printer, a machine that can produce plastic parts that may not even exist in the current inventory. There’s also a similar device known as a Computer Numerical Control Machining system for producing parts and components from steel and aluminum.
“This is cutting-edge technology that allows you to actually print parts and pieces to things,” Newell said. “They are not really inventing something new; they are modifying something that exists already so they can do something else.”
Below are pictures of what the lab looks like inside the connex container.