Dec 28, 2015 | By Benedict

3D printers can now be used anywhere and everywhere to provide quick solutions to technical and mechanical problems. The use of 3D printers aboard the International Space Station, for example, has generated much interest within the 3D printing community. 3D printers will soon carry significant value aboard spacecraft, since astronauts cannot simply purchase new parts in space. Without the use of a 3D printer, they must wait for the next planned delivery of cargo, which could be months or even years ahead.

Although a smaller amount of press coverage is given to seamen than spacemen, similar circumstances apply aboard long-haul ships. If a warship suffers a breakage and there is no spare part handy, a replacement cannot easily be sourced until the ship reaches land. The U.S. Navy has therefore turned to onboard additive manufacturing as a safeguard against small breakages.

Miniature fabrication labs have recently been placed on two Navy ships: the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman and the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge. Both ships and their respective 3D printers have been deployed in the fight against the Islamic State, according to Military.

"The whole goal is really to make us more self-sufficient as we deploy," Cmdr. Brady Drennan said while viewing the Truman's 3D printing lab. "Because when we leave the pier, we basically leave all the supplies, all the equipment, all the tools there.”

Both 3D printers have already received the call of duty since their deployment in November, with custom dust caps and a wrench being some of the first 3D printed objects created with the new machines. One sailor designed his own 3D printed oil cup after encountering difficulties with an existing device.

"It required at least two people to get all the oil in the cup, so I figured we have this technology here, why not try something that would make this task easier," Petty Officer 2nd Class Raymond Lee said. "I came up with an extension that narrows the nozzle, cuts the manpower in half, ensures there's no spilled oil all over the deck.”

After the success of the first few prints, more ideas came pouring in. The 3D printers have since been in constant action, and their proven utility could see machines installed on more ships. "I think the possibilities are endless," Lee added.

Another 3D printing solution involved printing an angled wall mount for a monitor to save desk space. “Our guys are actually drawing up the actual specs and they’re going to create them an actual kind of floating stand so they can get the monitors up and they can get them out of the way so they have more room to do their job,” said Lt. j.g. Casey Staidl. “It’s just one of those kind of unique things that aren’t in any kind of office–it’s ship life, so it’s one of those practical uses that we can use to help their lives.”

Each Navy “fab lab” consists of two 3D printers, a desktop computer, a large flatscreen monitor, a wireless keyboard and a mouse. A YouTube video featuring Lee shows the AST2 Invent3D machines in action. These compact and easy-to-install devices are able to produce small 3D printed objects on board, but sailors can also design larger components with the designated CAD software to be printed ashore and delivered.

Use of the 3D printers aboard the two warships has been something of an experiment, with the machines only installed at the last minute. The Truman’s fab lab was implemented by the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center just three days before the ship left.

"They contacted us about basically an experimental opportunity to do this mini fabrication... kind of designing and testing and so forth," said Cmdr. Al Palmer, the ship's maintenance officer.

When the two ships return from duty, the Navy must evaluate the utility of the onboard fab labs against their cost. The positive feedback from sailors suggests that the 3D printers have more than proved their worth so far, and 3D printers could soon become a staple piece of equipment for large ships.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Bruce Rogers wrote at 1/10/2016 11:19:09 PM:

The possibilities are only limited by size and materials. The concept of one ship producing a fleet wide "useful" component and e mailing the programme to other similarly equipped ships, while deployed is tremendous.

Bob Loblaw wrote at 12/29/2015 3:51:28 AM:

"Both ships and their respective 3D printers have been deployed in the fight against the Islamic State." How is that exactly and who told you this? Are they going to somehow take back the training, funding, and weapons the United States has openly given them, calling them "moderate rebels" though they see rape of Christians as their duty? Speaking of which, are they going to let loose an army of Buddhist Shaolin monks (real "moderate rebels") to fight the radicalized violent muslims that have historically oppressed them? Are they somehow going to de-radicalize and talk them into not waging guerrilla warfare? Are they going to shoot down the US drones radicalizing them? Or have booth ships been deployed to create the illusion the Navy is fighting the radials the US bred and set loose to justify social, political, and military actions/crimes?

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