49ers Win 3D Printing Competition

Date Published: 
April 28, 2015

As members of a team consisting of one other college student and an active duty Army representative, four UNC Charlotte Lee College of Engineering students won a 3D printing design competition sponsored by the U.S. Army Research Office.

Forty Niners Nathan Lambert (master’s student Mechanical Engineering), James Haig (master’s ME), Patrick Fain (BS Mechanical Engineering Technology), and Eric Fleischhauer (Ph.D. ME) were part of the team that won the competition to develop ideas and concepts for items that would be useful in a military operational environment, and for which 3D printing would offer an advantage.  

Five teams of students from across the University of North Carolina system, as well as Fayetteville Technical Community College, joined military and civilian representatives from the U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) and other U.S. Special Operations Forces commands in the 3D design competition. Hosted by the University of North Carolina, sponsored by the U.S. Army Research Office (ARO), and organized and facilitated by Dr. Brandon Conover of Practical Scientific Solutions, the first-of-its-kind 3D printing competition was held over two days this March at FTCC’s Spring Lake campus.

“Our team chose to try and tackle the problem of resupplying troops in contact with the enemy,” said James Haig. “Currently this requires a helicopter to come in low and very slow in order to drop a bag filled with ammunition or other needed supplies. We designed a rapid prototype container that would in theory, be able to be dropped by a helicopter at 150 ft going around 90 knots, decreasing the danger to them. We demonstrated a prototype printed on the Projet printer by dropping it on the ground from a height with a precious payload of corn puffs, it broke apart, protecting the contents. We won first place.”

The team’s final presentation is here.

Competition participants included eleven undergraduate and graduate-level students in biomedical engineering, mechanical engineering, industrial and systems engineering, and materials science programs from UNC Charlotte, UNC-Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University. Seven students in manufacturing and simulation and gaming programs at FTCC also participated.

During the competition, representatives from the ARO, industry (3D Systems, Trimech and Concurrent Technologies Corp.), UNC system, and the military were on hand to offer insight and feedback on designs, applications, practical constraints and certain other factors. Once designs were finalized, teams began printing initial prototypes on one of three machines provided by 3D Systems for use during the competition. After incorporating changes based on functionality, scale, material and manufacturing, students could modify their design before presenting to a panel of judges made up of industry and Army representatives.

Together, teams created five innovative products to address military needs. Printed products included a custom-fit face mask to filter sand, dust and other dangerous airborne particles; a lightweight, adjustable rucksack frame system to distribute weight evenly and comfortably; an emergency battlefield delivery system for dropping supplies from rotorcraft at a safe altitude and speed; a lightweight battlefield litter mounting bracket for light utility vehicles and other wheeled vehicles; and a modular battlefield traction splint system for stabilizing upper and lower extremity trauma.