The U.S. Army has deployed a number of rapid prototyping labs into Afghanistan. The labs are packed into standard 20-foot shipping containers, each with their own generator and method of climate control. The $2.8 million worth of goodies stuffed inside each container includes 3D Printers and CNC Machines as well as plasma cutters, welders, magnetic mounted drill-presses, electric hacksaws, routers, circular saws and jig saws.
The labs are part of the Army's continuing effort to meet the immediate needs of front-line soldiers. "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 Col. Pete Newell, commander of the Army's Rapid Equipping Force at Fort Belvoir, Va. "Rather than bringing the soldier home to the scientist, we have uprooted the scientist and the engineer and brought them to the soldier."
Each development pod does come complete with a senior scientist and an assistant, ready to take on the requests of G.I.'s in the field. With the prototyping equipment at their fingertips they can turn around a usable product within a matter of days. If the deployed scientists can't find a way to make what the soldiers need, they can connect to a network of 6,000 other military engineers who are ready to lend a hand.
Col. Newell also stated that in the future labs of this type could be used in disaster relief efforts. Being able to drop a pod after Hurricane Katrina for example, could have helped a lot of people. One thing is for certain though; the Army is so happy with the performance of the mobile development labs they plan to use them long past 2014, when our soldiers are scheduled to come home from Afghanistan.