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The Star Trek "replicator", now available

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  • The Star Trek "replicator", now available

    The Bottomless Cargo Container
    August 14, 2010: U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) has adopted an old U.S. Army concept to create mobile workshops (MTCs or Mobile Technology Complex) that can fix exotic gear (which SOCOM has a lot of), modify their special gear, or even create something new. The MTC is a modified (with new some gear) version of the decade old U.S. Army MPH (Mobile Parts Hospital).

    The MPH was developed when the army realized that the easiest way to get the many rarely requested, but vital, replacement parts to the troops, was to manufacture the parts in the combat zone. In short order, this led to the construction of a portable parts fabrication system, called MPH, that fit into a standard 8x8x20 foot shipping container. The original version used two containers, but smaller equipment and more powerful computers eventually made it possible to use one container.

    The key to making this work was the availability of computer controlled machine tools, which can take a block of the proper metal, and machine it into the desired part. The computer controlled machine tools have been around for decades, but the big breakthrough was the development of CAD (Computer Assisted Design) software for PCs in the 1980s, which made the process of designing, and then fabricating, a part much faster. The MPH has a high speed satellite data link, which enables it to obtain the CAD file for a part. Many CAD files are already stored in the MPH. Often, the MPH staff figure out a way to improve a part, based on the broken parts they see, and what the troops tell them.

    There are four MPH systems in service, two of them in Afghanistan. A fourth is being built, at a cost of $1.5 million. In the last six years, MPHs have manufactured over 100,000 parts, on the spot. This saves days, or weeks, that it would take to order the part from the manufacturer, and the MPH part is usually a lot cheaper (because the air freight and manufacturer mark ups to pay for maintaining the part in inventory). The next version of the MPH has a 3-D part builder, which uses metal dust and a laser to build a part.

    SOCOM is building eight of their MTCs and sending all of them to Afghanistan, to see how effective they will be at improving the readiness of equipment, and the usefulness of being able to modify existing gear, and build new stuff on the spot.
    You have to be trusted by the people that you lie to,
    So that when they turn their backs on you,
    You'll get the chance to put the knife in.Pink Floyd "Dogs"

  • #2
    Re: The Star Trek "replicator", now available

    Short version: The military has a mobile CNC machine shop in a cargo container.

    This reminds me of the fast-deployment data centers in cargo containers from 10 years ago.

    A good CNC machine can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the software isn't cheap, either. So that $1.5 million sounds like a bargain. Depending on what's in the box, it might be useful for commercial work, as well. For example, it would be a handy thing to attach to an oil rig.
    Dude, seriously, WHAT handkerchief?

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