Jun 3, 2016 | By Benedict

Sailors working in the USS Harry S. Truman’s 3D printing lab have developed Tru Clip, a simple 3D printed device designed to fix broken handheld radios used on the ship. A Tru Clip will be printed in space later this month when the ISS celebrates National Week of Making.

The USS Harry S. Truman, an aircraft carrier of the United States Navy, cost $4.5 billion to build, measures over 1,000 feet long, and can accommodate around 90 aircraft. But in spite of its monstrous size and military power, the ship has recently been on a voyage of smaller proportions, dropping its anchor in the warm and placid shores of 3D printing. Back in December 2015, Truman sailors revealed how an onboard 3D printer was being used to provide practical and cost-effective solutions to all kinds of problems aboard the vessel. When oil was being spilled on deck because of poorly designed oil cups, one sailor designed and 3D printed a replacement, and when some office staff were pressed for desk space, they 3D printed a wall mount for their computer monitors.

In fact, ever since the 3D printing lab was first installed on the Truman, clever inventions and useful replacement parts have been made on an almost daily basis. The latest example of additive manufacturing ingenuity aboard the aircraft carrier is the Tru Clip, a small, figure-of-eight-shaped piece of plastic designed to eliminate a costly and frustrating problem: broken clasps on handheld radios. According to Lt. j.g. Casey Staidl, 3D printing lab division officer, clasps on the handheld radios used across the ship were breaking over and over again, costing the Navy $615 for each replacement piece.

Facing this frustrating problem, Staidl and the other members of his 3D printing lab were tasked to come up with a solution. The team sketched a few ideas before coming up with the Tru Clip, which performs the job of the missing clasp at a cost of just 6 cents per clip, saving the Truman around $12,000 in just three months. “It doesn’t look pretty, it’s not a real sexy innovation, but that alone has saved us a ton of money,” Staidl said. “In the past 2 ½ years, Truman has spent $146,000 just on these pigtail attachments alone.”

Since the introduction of the 3D printed Tru Clip, the Truman has ordered just two official clasp replacements, for “backlog supply purposes”, and because the handheld radios are used on other Navy vessels, the Tru Clip will soon be introduced across the entire fleet in order to save even more money. A more surprising recipient of the Tru Clip design is the International Space Station, which will soon receive the digital files for the invention, which will be printed on the station’s Additive Manufacturing Facility 3D printer. The ISS will print its first Tru Clip on or around June 17 as it celebrates National Week of Making, a White House-sponsored event which celebrates innovators and inventors.

Although the Truman is the first and currently the only Navy aircraft carrier with a 3D printer, the amphibious assault ships USS Kearsarge and USS Essex have also been equipped with additive manufacturing facilities as part of a pilot program which aims to determine just how useful 3D printing can be for the fleet. The Truman 3D printer has already been used to create switch covers, temporary parts for hoses used by the ship anesthesiologist, and other useful bits and bobs.

Sailors operating the Truman’s 3D printing lab hope that the program is deemed useful enough to warrant extension and expansion, believing the technology to have shown its status as more than a novelty item. “We’ve seen 3D printing for years, but now it’s becoming affordable,” said Chief Petty Officer Jerrod Jenkins, the chief in charge of the 3D printing lab. “It’s not that $60,000 machine that you create a model on and go: ‘Oh that’s cool.’”

Ultimately, Jenkins believes that the seemingly small advantages offered by 3D printing will make the technology a worthwhile investment in the long run, especially when it is used to create spare parts which currently occupy huge storerooms. “When you come out to an aircraft carrier, you don’t think of a 3D printer sitting here making differences,” Jenkins said. “You think of more of the traditional bombs and pilots, but you really have to give the support people their due when it comes to coming up with new and innovative ways to support ultimately the big mission.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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