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‘It’s basically an expeditionary 3D printer’

DVIDS – News – “It’s basically an expeditionary 3D printer”

CAMP MURRAY, WASH. – The Air National Guard and Air Force Special Operations Command partnered with a San Diego-based company in November 2023 to create an expeditionary assembly unit capable of mass-producing unmanned aerial systems.
The innovation project is called Expeditionary Manufacturing Cell or xCell.

“Essentially it’s an expeditionary 3D printer,” said Master Sgt. Richard Stone, 194th Air Support Operations Group innovation officer. “The basis of the technology is…it’s about the size of a [shipping container] and it can print drones for this specific use case.”

These are fairly large drones; Stone estimated their weight at 25 to 50 pounds.

“In there [shipping container]“It prints out all the components,” Stone said. “But then there’s what’s called RPA, which is a robotic process [automation.]”

xCell prints the individual parts and then uses RPA to assemble the main components of the drone.

“The user can take these components and put them together almost like Legos,” Stone said. “So if you want a longer drone with a certain payload, you can take these components and put them together and the computer will tell you, ‘This is where the wings go and this is where the center of gravity should be.’

Stone heard about xCell from an innovation officer at the 3rd ASOG at Fort Hood, Texas. They told him all about the drones that could be built. Stone wasn’t interested at first until he heard about the 3D printer that made the drones.

“Because of advances in additive manufacturing, which is the fancy name for 3D printing, you can actually print explosives. You can build a drone that’s fully explosive or partially explosive, you can print ammunition, you can print anything.”

How can xCell be applicable and useful to the 194th Wing?

“We have seen that this technology has numerous applications not only for the ASOG but also for the Wing, particularly for the State Partnership Program,” Stone said.

The Washington Air National Guard partners with Malasia and Thailand to conduct joint security operations and exercises. Stone imagines it would be beneficial to have an xCell in both countries, he said.

“So let’s say we ship this [tactical air control party] and that [communications] Guys to Thailand and they break an antenna,” Stone said. “You can print out a new antenna right there on the spot.”

The xCell project is consistent with the National Defense Strategy and the Agile Combat Employment doctrine. ACE shifts operations from centralized physical infrastructure to a network of smaller, distributed locations. This means minimizing dependence on US resources.

In theory, xCell can be set up anywhere and at any time. It can remain hidden in public while running using local resources. This would not only provide ACE personnel with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance options, but also affordable mass.

“Affordable mass at the tactical edge will enable the 194th ASOG to engage high-value targets at a fraction of the cost of traditional munitions without endangering aircrew,” Stone said.

How does the 194th ASOG contribute to xCell?

“The 194th ASOG worked with the Air National Guard’s ARCWERX to secure additional funding for the xCell program,” Stone said.

ARCWERX is an innovation program that provides companies with additional funding to work on similar projects.

Stone continued: “Our role in this is a combination of supporting as an end user and providing feedback from an operational perspective about what we need to see or what would be of use to the actual people who will be using the drones.”

Date taken:November 14, 2023
Release Date:Feb 29, 2024 12:28 p.m
Story ID:464611
Location:CAMP MURRAY’, WA, USA
Web views:7
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