Meet RAMBO, the Army’s badass new 3D-printed grenade launcher

army 3d printed grenade launcher rambo
You know 3D-printing has hit the big leagues when the military starts using the technology to produce weapons. Researchers at the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center this week announced the successful development and firing of a 3D-printed grenade from a 3D-printed grenade launcher.

The grenade launcher, aptly named RAMBO (Rapid Additively Manufactured Ballistics Ordnance), was designed and developed as part of a collaborative effort between the Army Research, Development, and Engineering Command (RDECOM) and the U.S. Army Manufacturing Technology (ManTech) Program. Also involved was AmericaMakes, an accelerator program that brings together the best minds in additive manufacturing and 3D-printing technology.

The RAMBO grenade launcher is comprised of 50 parts, and all of the components, except the springs and fasteners, were produced using 3D-printing. Different parts of the grenade launcher, however, were manufactured using different materials and additive manufacturing techniques — the barrel and receiver were fabricated from aluminum using a direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) process, while the trigger and firing pin were printed using alloy steel.

Additive manufacturing enables accelerated development

When developing the grenade launcher, the Army wanted a weapon that could move through the prototype stage and land in the hands of soldiers quickly. Instead of waiting for months for a single machined prototype weapon, Army researchers were able to 3D-print and test multiple versions of the grenade launcher in a fraction of that time. It took 70 hours to print the barrel and receiver and another 5 hours to finish off the part in post production. Overall, instead of years, it took a mere six months to produce a weapon and compatible ammunition that was suitable for test firing.

Not only is the 3D-printing process time efficient, but it also is cost-effective from both a materials and manpower standpoint. The process of additive manufacturing can print intricate parts that would take a machinist hours to complete by hand. The 3D-printing process also can be performed autonomously, requiring an operator only to turn on the machine and check it intermittently until the process is complete.  An added bonus is that no scrap material is produced during the 3D-printing process.

Next step: 3D-printed ammunition

Besides the grenade launcher, the Army is also moving to 3D-print the ammunition for the launcher. Working at two RDECOM research and development centers, researchers were able to 3D-print a standard 40-mm M781 training round.

From a 3D-printing point of view, the grenade was a success. Three of the four main parts of the M781 grenade — the windshield, the projectile body, and the cartridge case, were 3D-printed. Only the .38-caliber cartridge case was purchased as a separate unit and then pressed into the 3D-printed cartridge case. It is worth noting that the rounds are not live, as the addition of explosives, propellants and pyrotechnics have not been approved for use in a 3D-printed shell.

Once completed, the Army tested the RAMBO weapon using a remote firing system at both indoor ranges and outdoor testing facilities. All 3D-printed rounds were successfully fired through the launcher. Initial tests showed there was some variation in ammunition velocities, but that variance was quickly rectified by a few rounds of design changes and 3D-printing. The Army is now testing the reliability of the weapon under sustained and long-term use.

Emerging Tech

Global Good wants to rid the world of deadly diseases with lasers and A.I.

Global Good, a collaboration between Intellectual Ventures and Bill Gates, aims to eradicate diseases that kill children in developing nations. It tackles difficult problems with high-tech prototypes.
Cars

Researchers teach self-driving cars to predict pedestrians’ next moves

University of Michigan researchers are developing a system that teaches self-driving cars to predict pedestrian movement. Humans don't always act in their own best self-interest, so autonomous cars will need to practice protective driving.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s ‘Refabricator’ lets astronauts recycle 3D-printed tools to make new ones

The International Space Station just received a fancy new gadget in the form of a Refabricator, a machine capable of 3D printing using recycled plastic materials. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

Caltech’s bird-inspired robot uses thrusters to help stay on its feet

Researchers from Caltech have developed a new bird-inspired robot that uses thrusters on its torso to help it to walk with more stability. Here's why that challenge is so important.
Emerging Tech

White spots on Ceres are evidence of ancient ice volcanoes erupting

Scientists are pouring over data collected by NASA's Dawn mission to learn about the dwarf planet Ceres and the bright white spots observed at the bottom of impact craters. They believe that these spots are evidence of ice volcanoes.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Grow veggies indoors and shower more efficiently

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

NASA to launch SPHEREx mission to investigate the origins of our universe

NASA is launching an ambitious mission to map the entire sky to understand the origins of the universe. The Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer (SPHEREx) mission will launch in 2023.
Emerging Tech

Probes exploring Earth’s hazardous radiation belts enter final phase of life

The Van Allen probes have been exploring the radiation belts around Earth for seven years. Now the probes are moving into the final phase of their exploration, coming closer to Earth to gather more data before burning up in the atmosphere.
Emerging Tech

How can digital art created on obsolete platforms be preserved?

As the lines between art and technology continue to blur, digital art experiences become more commonplace. But these developments are raising an important question for art conservationists: How should digital artworks be preserved?
Emerging Tech

Statistician raises red flag about reliability of machine learning techniques

Machine learning is everywhere in science and technology. But how reliable are these techniques really? A statistician argues that questions of accuracy and reproducibility of machine learning have not been fully addressed.
Emerging Tech

Chandra X-ray telescope uncovers evidence of the universe’s missing matter

Where is all of the matter in the universe? NASA's Chandra telescope has uncovered evidence of hot gas strands in the vicinity of a quasar which could explain the missing third of matter which has puzzled astronomers for years.
Emerging Tech

Wish you could fly? You totally can with these top-of-the-line drones

In just the past few years, drones have transformed from a geeky hobbyist affair to a full-on cultural phenomenon. Here's a no-nonsense rundown of the best drones you can buy right now, no matter what kind of flying you plan to do.
Emerging Tech

Here’s how Facebook taught its Portal A.I. to think like a Hollywood filmmaker

When Facebook introduced its Portal screen-enhanced smart speakers, it wanted to find a way to make video chat as intimate as sitting down for a conversation with a friend. Here's how it did it.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s space observatory will map the sky with unprecedented detail

NASA is preparing to launch a cutting-edge space observatory to create the most detailed map ever produced of the sky. Doing so will involve surveying hundreds of millions of galaxies. Here's how it plans to do it.