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U.S. Air Force Backs Development of Mobile 3D Printed Runway Mat

A professor of civil engineering at Purdue University is developing a new type of runway mat for temporary flight operations using metal additive manufacturing. The project, which is being conducted in collaboration with Indiana Technology and Manufacturing Companies (ITAMCO), recently received a grant worth $1 million from the U.S. Air Force.

The funding, a SBIR Phase II grant, will enable Purdue professor Pablo Zavattieri and his team to fast track the 3D printed runway mat’s development. He said of the project: “The objective of the research is to develop a robust sheet or roll technology that serves as an alternative to the AM-2 mat for temporary or expeditionary flight operations. AM-2 matting has served the U.S. military well since the Vietnam War, but the materials and technology in the ITAMCO-led research project will offer many benefits over AM-2 matting.”

Conventional AM-2 matting is a mobile runway that consists of metal rectangles (usually steel or aluminum) measuring about 2 x 12 feet. The mat is designed to be placed on weaker ground surfaces to enable military aircraft to land and takeoff. The new 3D printed runway mat conceived by the Purdue team is said to be more lightweight that AM-2 and more durable.

The new matting solution is made up of an upper surface that bonds with a lower surface. The design is notable for its Phase Transforming Cellular Material (PXCM) geometry, which can withstand and mitigate the loading and sheer stresses of military aircraft.

“Products made with PXCM geometry have the ability to change from one stable configuration to another stable or metastable configuration and back again,” Zavattieri explained. “This means the new runway mat could potentially heal itself, resulting in a much longer life span than a runway made with AM-2 matting. Another benefit is that debris on the runway will not hamper the runway’s performance with our technology.”

With the recent $1 million grant from the U.S. Air Force, the Purdue researcher and his partners at ITAMCO will accelerate the runway mat’s development, moving into the prototyping and testing stage. Specifically, the partners will evaluate the 3D printed mat’s ability to restore itself to its original contour and full operational capability within 30 minutes of compaction.

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