Republic of Korea military turns to 3D printing for supply chain reliability

Republic of Korea military turns to 3D printing for supply chain reliability

Felix Kim

3D printing is becoming central to South Korea’s defense industry, with thousands of parts printed each year for the Ministry of National Defense (MND), including components of the indigenously manufactured KF-21 fighter jet.

3D printers can manufacture accurate and reliable defense system components, according to the MND. Moreover, they can produce parts that are no longer manufactured by factories or are difficult to obtain rapidly and economically and in small quantities, offering advantages over conventional manufacturing. More than 2,500 defense components were 3D printed in 2021, saving money and time.

To attract the best personnel and resources to the emerging industrial field, the MND has configured a new division devoted to 3D printing for defense. It consists of two units: one specialized in improving existing military goods and one focused on future products.

The MND said the division will “contribute to the spread of 3D printing technology and the establishment of a production base necessary for the ‘smart logistics innovation’ that is being promoted for defense innovation.”

The division will participate in the sixth annual 3D Printing Bizcon Competition in November 2021, organized by South Korea’s 3D Printing Industry Association and supported by the country’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy. The MND expects the competition to generate interest within the military and among civilians to get involved with the new division’s efforts to advance 3D printing for defense.

“We are working hard to cultivate experts in the field of defense, such as education for training of 3D printing experts in the field of defense, together with the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy,” an MND spokesman said. “We will promote various efforts so that it can be applied.”

South Korean defense firm Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction has used 3D printing to manufacture air circulation system components for the KF-21, pictured during assembly, the Business Korea newspaper reported in April 2021. Such components have been installed on aircraft prototypes. Doosan has contracted with the MND since 2019 to use 3D-printing technology for indigenous production of aircraft materials.

The Republic of Korea Air Force began using 3D printing in 2015 to produce cover plates for high-pressure turbines in its F-15K fighter, according to The Korea Times newspaper. As a result, the Air Force bypassed about a 60-day wait for delivery from an overseas supplier and saved over U.S. $30,000 on each plate, or roughly 90% of its manufacturing cost.

IMAGE CREDIT: KOREA AEROSPACE INDUSTRIES LTD.

Felix Kim is a FORUM contributor reporting from Seoul, South Korea.

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