This is the toy shop every adult’s inner child dreams of.

The General Support Center in Rödelheim, Germany, is like a Willy Wonka Factory for the military, but instead of delivering fantastic sweets, it dispenses adult-size, ultramodern playthings that go beyond the wildest dreams.

Though the center is actually about supplying custom-made training aids and scale models in wood, plastic, metal or rubber for the military, the high-tech machinery and realistic gear put the fun factor way up when training.

Plus, the 23 workers in the workshop are skilled in modeling, graphic arts and engineering. They traded in their conventional tools to tinker with high-speed computers and robotic arms instead.

The center, which is in a suburb of Frankfurt am Main and part of the Director of Training, Training Support Activity Europe with the 7th Army Training Area, is now working on two new, mind-boggling projects.

The newest and most incredible equipment in the center’s bag of tricks is its Fused Deposition Modeler 3-D printing technology, where prototypes of real-world objects are made off of computer images with the speed, ease and affordability of two-dimensional desktop printing, according to John R. Krollpfeiffer, chief of the center’s Production Branch.

The magic of producing physical models directly from digital data in hours — instead of days — is being used to make prototypes in new product development, said Krollpfeiffer, who has a host of small sculptures such as chess pieces, dragonsand even a colored Army tank to show off what the printer can do.

“Now a person could come to us with an idea and we could get it back to them to be field-tested faster than ever with this rapid prototyping,” explained Krollpfeiffer, referring to the printer that uses dried plaster and a chemical hardener to create the sculpture in .2-millimeter layers at a time.

Another project that’s making leaps and bounds is the construction of three-dimensional raised contour maps, which first debuted at the Land Combat Expo in Heidelberg, Germany, last year.

The maps, which are produced from Digital Terrain Elevation Data or information from the U.S. Geological Survey, show relief and contours for any given area.

The elevation data is then carved into high-density plastic foam by a highly calibrated, five-axis computerized cutting machine, which makes the high peaks of mountainous areas first and then adds the lower portions of the map in layers. Later, color and shading are added by hand to give the map a natural effect, he said.

So far, the center has made a Normandy, France,-to-Aachen, Germany, terrain model and an Iraq-to-Kuwait terrain model. The maps can be produced in various sizes, colors and in a variety of materials, such as styrene, wood and urethane.

The U.S. Army-owned and -operated center isn’t just about wowing its consumers with its latest technological advances — it’s about saving lives with realistic training aids, Krollpfeiffer said.

“Training is important, and, sure, we help save lives — training has to save lives. Troops have to train with a purpose, train to win, and train to have a minimum of casualties. I think we do a good job of helping troops do that,” he said.

The center gives priority to military units with bona fide training aid requests and offers its services to the units free of charge if material cost is no more than $500, he said. The unit will be asked to cover the cost of the rest of the materials. However, labor is not charged.

Special projects that fall outside of the realm of training will also be done for military units, but material and labor will be charged, Krollpfeiffer said.

Most of projects done at the modeling center involve full-scale Humvee replicas in wood, realistic polyurethane weapons and mines, as well as company or unit signs.

One of the largest projects the center completed was a map about 52 feet by 66 feet in size that covered the parking lot area outside of the center.

However, the center isn’t just about making big things. In fact, its motto of “No project too small” is real. Everything from the last bolt on a mine to the pin on a grenade is made to scale and weight to make the most realistic training possible for troops.

In the multimedia center, waterproof maps on vinyl and DVDs and CDs are mass-produced to make training easier, Krollpfeiffer said.

Plus, he said, the center is not solely for the use of the Army. U.S. military units throughout Europe can contact the center for a free consultation to get training aids.

Units needing training aids should call the center at DSN: 320-3830 or civilian: 069-78909830. E-mail questions to: Snail mail questions to: Production Branch, Gaugrafenstrasse 24, 60489 Frankfurt/Main, Building 2528 or Unit 25308, APO AE 09096; Fax: 320-3834

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now