The US Army's Rapid Equipping Force (REF) is sending expeditionary labs housed in 20-foot shipping containers to Afghanistan, allowing engineers to manufacture parts on-site and provide soldiers with real-time technical support. Each lab costs $2.8 million and contains a 3D printer to print plastic parts, a CNC machine to manufacture steel and aluminum parts, a number of tools, as well as satellite equipment for engineers to collaborate via video conference with others worldwide.
With the use of these new labs, engineers can work more closely with soldiers and the problems they encounter, cutting prototype production times from months to mere hours. The first expeditionary lab has been operational in southern Afghanistan since July, and another is set to be deployed in the country this fall. A third lab will remain in the US for potential use during a natural disaster.