5 Things to Know About Navy 3D Printing

By Vice Adm. Phillip Cullom
Chief of Fleet Readiness and Logistics

Last month, I had the chance to drop in by video-teleconference on a workshop in Dam Neck, Va., connecting Sailors with the Navy’s current 3D-printing efforts, demonstrating the use of 3D printers in hands-on tutorials, and exploring the potential of 3D-printing capabilities to solve Navy problems. I was excited to hear creative new ideas brought forward from the waterfront, matched by a high level of enthusiasm for improving the Navy.

While in many ways this was the Navy’s first Maker event, it was not the Navy’s first involvement with additive manufacturing, as 3D printing is also known. The Navy has roughly 70 additive manufacturing projects underway at dozens of different locations, and has supported research into 3D printing for more than 20 years. Earlier this year, the Chief of Naval Operations designated me as the lead on coordinating the Navy’s additive manufacturing efforts, and we’re in the process of developing the Navy’s additive manufacturing vision and strategy. Although many challenges remain, the Navy’s efforts continue to expand as the technology matures and begins the early stages of transforming Navy logistics and maintenance capabilities.

We in the Navy have a proud tradition of using our hands and ingenuity to apply new technology to overcome challenges, the essence of today’s Maker Movement. There will be many more Navy Maker events such as last month’s workshop – I hope to see you at one! In the meantime, if you have ideas for useful items that could be printed, send an email to PTF@navy.mil. Sailors and members of DoD can also stay up to date on our efforts, learn about 3D-printing opportunities and join the additive manufacturing conversation via the CAC-enabled additive manufacturing MilSuite site.

If you’re new to 3D printing, or wonder why the Navy is interested in this technology, consider these five things additive manufacturing is doing for the Navy.

 Navy Additive Manufacturing’s Efforts Are…

 1. Saving Money and Time

Norfolk Naval Shipyard’s Rapid Prototype Lab is saving the Navy thousands of dollars on the Gerald R. Ford-class of aircraft carriers. Instead of traditional wood or metal mockups of ship alterations, which help to prevent expensive rework, the lab prints much cheaper plastic polymer models – in hours, rather than days or weeks. Now all four Navy shipyards have 3D printers working on similar, and other, ways to benefit the Navy.

blog12. Innovative

The Navy’s Fleet Readiness Center Southeast took advantage of the ability to work with more complicated designs and unique material properties to develop an enhanced hydraulic intake manifold for the V-22 Osprey.  This manifold is 70 percent lighter, improves fluid flow, and has fewer leak points than its traditionally manufactured counterpart.

 blog23. Customizable

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center uses additive manufacturing processes to meet a range of medical needs and delivers personalized patient care. Taking advantage of the ease of customizing 3D-printed parts, WRNNMC produces items including tailor-made cranial plate implants, medical tooling, and surgical guides.

blog34. Overcoming Obsolescence

The circuit card clip for J-6000 Tactical Support System Servers, installed onboard Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered guided-missile submarines and Ohio-class nuclear-powered guided-missile submarines is no longer produced by its original manufacturer. Naval Undersea Warfare Center-Keyport used additive manufacturing to create a supply of replacement parts to keep the Fleet ready.

blog45. Demonstrating the Potential to Increase Fleet Readiness Even Further

The CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell Print the Fleet project installed a 3D printer aboard USS Essex this year, demonstrating the ability to develop and print a variety of shipboard items, from oil reservoir caps and deck drain covers to training aids and tools.