Experimental Fab Labs Set up on USS Harry Truman & USS Kearsarge Allow for Self-Sustainability at Sea

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UntitledMilitary organizations around the world are definitely on board with 3D printing today, and most especially in the US. Recognizing its myriad uses and benefits as highly attractive for a number of different military scenarios, from the concept of printable wearables to custom drones, we’ve reported on countless ways they plan to integrate 3D printing into military concepts.

Now, the USS Harry Truman is able to 3D print parts at sea, making it much easier to maintain the ship without having to rely on having components flown in, or worse, having to return to port. Offering incredible self-sustainability, 3D printing labs allow sailors to make their own custom parts. In their fab lab, sailors began putting 3D printing to use in November after installation by Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center. Directly upon their first weeks of deployment, soldiers created 3D items such as dust caps, a wrench, and even a custom solution for an ill-fitting oil cup meant for a funnel.

“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.”

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USS Harry Truman

Sailors seem enthused about the technology, and are well aware of the incredible options–and benefits–that it offers to them. They are excited about using the labs, and many have come up with innovative ideas, which are being tested through trial and error by soldiers who probably never imagined they would be able to use such technology right on the ship. Each lab has two small printers, a traditional desktop computer, large flat-screen monitor, wireless keyboard, and mouse.

“I think the possibilities are endless,” Lee said of the labs, which allow sailors to print nearly anything–and if a model is of larger size, designs can be sent to a nearby location, printed, and delivered on board.

A miniature lab has been placed on the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge too, which is also based in Norfolk and currently deployed for duty in the Middle East.

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

Although this is an experimental program for ‘mini-fabrication’ and testing, the 3D printers seem to be integrating into the operations of the ship quite rapidly, offering assistance with issues that could not have been dealt with as expediently, affordably–or creatively–previously. This was clearly demonstrated as one of the sailors had a space issue (not uncommon for life on a ship) in his workspace. According to Lt. (j.g.) Casey Staidl, he needed to have his computer monitor hung, and at a specific angle.

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A sailor puts the new 3D printing lab on the USS Harry S. Truman to use in November 2015. (U.S. Navy/B. Siens)

“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 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.”

As 3D printing spreads across the globe, these practices are of course not limited to the US military, with the Taiwanese using 3D printing for maintenance of older military parts, as well as the Israeli’s using US technology to also make 3D printed drones. Soon, this technology will most likely become a normal tool within the sailor’s and the soldier’s arsenal, whether he is on a ship or on land in a remote outpost.  Discuss this story in the 3D Printing At Sea forum on 3DPB.com.

[Source: Military.com]
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