July 4, 2014

The USS Essex

The U.S. Navy is exploring how 3D printing can be used as an at-sea manufacturing technology. On Jun 24 and 26, the U.S. Navy hosted its first Maker Faire, a two-day event featuring a series of workshops titled, "Print the Fleet," to introduce 3D printing and additive manufacturing to Sailors and other stakeholders at Combat Direction Systems Activity (CDSA), Dam Neck, a Navy warfare center.

The Navy will be looking primarily at the technology as a solution to its current logistical problems that arise from operating on the high seas.

"When you consider the cost and vulnerabilities of our existing Navy logistics and supply chains as well as the resource constraints we face, it quickly becomes clear that we have to reimagine how we do business," said Vice Adm. Phil Cullom, deputy chief of naval operations for fleet readiness and logistics, during a video introduction.

"When advanced manufacturing and 3D printing becomes widely available, we envision a global network of advanced fabrication shops supported by Sailors with the skills and training to identify problems and make products."

In the future, the Navy aims to train sailors with this expertise, so if there is a part needed and it doesn't exist in the inventory, sailors could design and print the part on demand within hours or days, allowing for a more rapid response to the ship's needs.

For U.S. Navy, adopting 3D printing could drastically increase the speed of execution, decrease costs and avoid shipping parts around the world.

Carolyn Lambeth, a mechanical engineer at Combat Direction Systems Activity, right, explains the process on addictive manufacturing and 3D printing to Sailors during the U.S. Navy's first Maker Faire titled "Print the Fleet." (Image: Seaman Jonathan B. Trejo)

Earlier this year, the Navy installed a compact 3D printer on amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) for testing. Essex successfully trained its Sailors on computer-aided design software and how to use the printer. The printer has been used to print disposable medical supplies (think plastic syringes), an oil tank cap, and model planes. But the Navy still need to see if the printer will work in high-stress environment and how it copes with engine vibration and the rolling seas.

"It's the biggest thing happening on the deck plate," said Capt. Jim Loper, concepts and innovations department head at Navy Warfare Development Center. "We put the printer on Essex specifically to get it in Sailors' hands so they could play with the technology and so we could learn the best way to use the printer."

"The future of logistics is 3D printing," said Loper. "The quantity of supplies we carry on board could be reduced significantly if we 3D print those products on the ship. There really are no limits."

Posted in 3D Printing Applications

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