3D printing has been making a major impact on military organizations all over the world, from land to sky and sea. The technology has definitely been playing a big part in the innovation of the US Navy. Back in 2014, the Navy installed a 3D printer on one of its ships, the USS Essex, for the first time, to see how the technology would handle extended time at sea. It’s obviously been performing very well, since we reported a year later that the sailors aboard the USS Essex were using the 3D printer to print out parts that were used to construct and assemble custom drones.
One of those drones was displayed at a recent Navy 3D printing event: twenty different naval organizations met last week to display their 3D printing capabilities at the Fiscal Year 2017 Department of the Navy 3D Print-a-thon.The event, which included Sailors, Marines, engineers, maintenance operations, and scientists, was hosted by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition, to show Sailors and Department of Defense employees how warfighting capabilities and readiness/sustainment activities are enhanced by the Navy’s use of additive manufacturing technologies.
In addition to low-cost array antennas and customized propellers that are used on unmanned underwater vehicles, event attendees also got to see a tactical unmanned aircraft that’s designed to support visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS) operations, as well as what the crew of the USS Essex has been working on.
“This is the Department of Navy Print-a-thon. It is a demonstration of Additive Manufacturing techniques for naval operations. [This] lets the Department of Defense really understand where Additive Manufacturing is as a technology, what it’s good for, and where it’s going,” explained Carl Henshaw, a member of the US Naval Research Laboratory.
Mark Jue, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division innovator, said, “What we are displaying here is a 3D printed quadcopter that was printed aboard USS Essex (LHD 2). The importance of the quadcopter was to show how we could print parts for the quadcopter onboard the ship.”
Not only was it helpful for others to see 3D printing technology is capable of, the event also allowed innovative attendees to discuss the technology, their ideas, and network with others, to develop potential future projects together.
“This event let a lot of the senior leadership see what we are working on at the warfare centers and other agencies. It gives them an idea of our thoughts, as engineers, so that we are on the same path. The advantage of having all these technologies here, and the principal investigators that are working on it, gives us a great opportunity to see what other people are working on, that might align with what we are working on, and possibly merge them together. It’s a good way to network with the other PIs that are working on the same technology…and create something that might have not ever been thought about,” said Jue.
All of the inventions that were on display at the 3D Print-a-thon were either fully 3D printed, or contained major components that had been 3D printed – saving the Navy both money and time.
Jue explained, “The Navy and Marine Corps should care about 3D printing because this is a money saver and is also a way for us to advance our technology. I see the Department of Navy and 3D printing really taking us into the future as far as being able to rapidly prototype. If you have an idea, and you want to see what it might look like, you could print a model of it and see. It is pretty quick and easy to get a model out and printed, so it will help the [the person] visualize what is going to happen.”
Will we be seeing more 3D printing coming to the Pentagon soon?[Sources: US Navy, Strategy and Innovation, Department of the Navy / Images: U.S. Navy, by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jason Meyer]