May.22, 2013

The U.S. Navy could soon use 3D printing to shake up current supply chains, sea basing and even maritime strategy, said Lieutenant Commander Michael Llenza, author of article "Print when ready, Gridley" published on Armed Forces Journal.

Making parts

3D printing was described by Neil Gershenfeld of MIT, as a process of making "things into data and data back into things." So instead of actual parts, a ship might carry 3D printers and bags of various powdered ingredients, and simply download the design files needed to print items as necessary, wrote Llenza.

In the near future, sailors and Marines would be able to send an email with a digital scan or design for a part they need and have it created at the nearest certified printer. According to Llenza, the Navy of the future could include floating factory ships that can take print-on-demand orders from the battlegroup.

Printing ammunition

Llenza also believes that future 3D printers might be able to make not only ammunition casings, but also their energetic components. They invited Virginia Tech's 3-D printing labs to the base and the researchers believe the idea is worth exploring that 3D printing might be able to produce propellants with geometries that provide better and more efficient burn rates. Llenza said at least the technology could be used to fill supply gaps and customize ammunition for specific targets.

Building shelters

3D printing offers a new way to think about building shelters or other structures on a beachhead or forward operating base, said Llenza. For example the Contour Crafting system developed at the University of Southern California can produce a 2,500-square-foot structure in about 20 hours, with cement walls three times stronger than ordinary construction.

Some others have also demonstrated the ability to make objects from materials from the local environment. For example Markus Kayser used a solar-powered 3D printer to print glass objects in the Sahara Desert using sand. "What if we (the navy) could harvest some of the minerals from the surrounding ocean to help create some of these parts?" wrote Llenza.

Printing prosthetics and medicine

According to Llenza, 3D printing might radically change how the navy takes care of sailors and Marines. At Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., soldiers' damaged limbs are scanned and custom prosthetics can be made on a 3D printer.

"Medical enhancement through bio-printing is one potential area of interest for the military; others include printing nonrejectable skin and bone grafts that subject the patient to much less trauma. Or on-site medical care where removal of the patient is not feasible or safe. Or testing the effects of bio-terrorism agents and irritants on lung or skin — and even developing printable drugs and vaccines. Imagine the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emailing us the blueprints for a vaccine to avert an impending pandemic or defend against a possible biological attack. " wrote Llenza.

Printing food

"Printed food, while admittedly not a terribly appealing concept, can shorten the Navy's logistical tail, reducing security risks, costs and energy consumption," wrote Llenza.

However Llenza also notes that there is still a long way to go before Navy could utilize the full potential of 3D printing, such as the safety of replacement parts, the intellectual-property rights of systems and designs. "But make no mistake, this technology will become the way we manufacture." said Llenza.

"In the end, an effective effort to turn the promise of 3-D printing into reality will require an overarching Navy Department strategy for additive manufacturing. Creating one will be a crucial step toward shaping the technology in order to ensure it meets the Navy's needs and to propel it in the direction we would like it to go."


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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Elijah Post wrote at 5/24/2013 12:00:37 AM:

"According to Llenza, the Navy of the future could include floating factory ships that can take print-on-demand orders from the battlegroup." I'm no tactician, but this seems like a really bad idea. It would only take one sunk ship to compromise an entire battle group in in the event of a major conflict, no? Even with backup systems elsewhere, it seems bad. Why not put equipment on all carriers and battle ships as needed?

. wrote at 5/23/2013 4:36:04 AM:

I am still waiting for my personal jetpack ~ Red, from That 70s show.

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