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The US Navy has found many uses for the application of 3D printing technology, from making replacement parts and drones at sea to 3D printing a manual primary globe valve. This last was completed by engineers from the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) in Virginia, which is a big proponent of additive manufacturing, having hosted a 3D print-a-thon back in 2016 and joining Desktop Metal’s Pioneer Program.

Two years ago, NSWCDD began a collaboration with the University of Virginia (UVA) through the Naval Engineering Education Consortium (NEEC) in order to develop a better understanding of the limitations, capabilities, and benefits of 3D printing technology, which led to better communication between hiring managers and students about to graduate who are seeking employment, important materials research, and an Educational Partnership Agreement.

“The Navy provides guidance to academia, and is, in turn, the recipient of focused, relevant technical contributions to the work we accomplish in support of our warfighters. The students gain perspective about the context of the research they conduct, and obtain insight into Warfare Center science and technology activities and employment opportunities,” said Dr. Tabitha Apple Newman, an NSWCDD engineer mentoring the students. “Overall, NEEC is an invaluable program and has resulted in an overwhelmingly positive experience for NSWCDD and University of Virginia participants.”

Flash forward to 2018, and the partnership between NSWCDD and UVA is still going strong and making a positive impact on 3D printing researchers in Navy programs.

“We have been very happy to play a small role in an important workforce development program for the defense community. This has enabled us to work with some outstanding students, and we hope to establish a long-term relationship with Dahlgren that enables us to continue attracting the best undergraduate and graduate students into our program,” said UVA professor Dr. Jim Fitz-Gerald. “It is our sincere hope that some of these students will elect to pursue careers within the NSWC complex. It was particularly satisfying to see students outside our funded program get excited about opportunities within the NSWC complex.”

University of Virginia students investigate material properties with a microscope. [Image: US Navy]

Additive manufacturing is a viable alternative to traditional manufacturing technologies based on casting, forging, and machining processes, and has been listed as an emergent need for the Navy. As such, there have been multiple efforts to teach our nation’s military how the technology can be used to benefit them. Among other uses, 3D printing can also provide dimensional restoration, rapid prototyping, and in-service replacement of legacy components.

Dr. Newman said, “We look forward to continuing and expanding upon the benefits afforded to the Navy, university, faculty and students involved. Additive manufacturing research, in particular, reaches across technical fields and capabilities, and allows Dahlgren to immediately better evaluate and design products for its customers – whether for gun prototypes, special-use technologies, CBR (chemical, biological and radiological) defense, or electric weapons.”

The greater mission of the project between the UVA students and professors and USWCDD engineers and scientists, aside from fostering innovation, mentoring, and learning together, is to develop quantitative connections between materials process parameters, microstructure, and properties. By doing so, an important and necessary step will be taken in qualifying 3D printed parts to be put to work in critical load-bearing components.

USS Essex, home to the very first 3D printer on a naval ship.

“The research that the University of Virginia is conducting is an important examination of the microstructure and mechanical properties of alloys relevant to the Navy produced by state of the art additive manufacturing techniques. Understanding these properties is paramount as the Navy begins to design, develop, produce, and field components and systems produced with additive manufacturing to improve performance and availability of systems in the Fleet. Without it, much of the promise of additive manufacturing will be out of reach,” said Ricky Moore, an NSWCDD engineer and mentor to the UVA students.

The project and all its proposed efforts will not only leverage NSWCDD’s 3D printing capabilities, but also make use of the university’s expertise and materials heat treatment, characterization, testing, and analysis capabilities. Already, a breakthrough has been reported with metal 3D printing as a result of the partnership.

“Our collaboration has opened the door to the fascinating world of additive manufacturing of metals. The results we have been able to collect in this study have confirmed that the combined mechanical properties – the strength and ductility of 3D printed 316L stainless steel – can be far superior to incumbent wrought processed material. Not only did we confirm these properties, we also were able to develop structure-property relationships to establish the origin of the enhanced strength,” said UVA professor Dr. Sean Agnew. “Surprisingly, a higher number of defects in the microstructure actually impart improved properties. The fact that the ductility remains high is still surprising and will serve as the basis for future research. We have been able to parlay this initial experience to build a broader network of collaborators that spans research institutes across the United States and Australia.”

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts in the comments below. 

[Source: NAVSEA]

 

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