For years now the U.S. Army has been working with 3D printers, mostly from an experimental point of view, but in some cases using them in actual combat zones, to print out parts which may be needed urgently.
Only a few weeks ago, we reported that another branch of the U.S. Military, the United States Navy, was considering adding 3D printers to some of their ships. Today we got word that the very first 3D printer has been installed on board the USS Essex. The USS Essex is a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship which launched in February of 1991. The ship is 844 feet in length, and can house 1,800 troops as well as 36 aircraft.
On September 18th, 2012 the the carrier went in for a major maintenance after suffering an apparent steering failing in May of that year. The maintenance has given the Navy the time that’s needed to permanently install, and test out a 3D printer on board. The ship should be leaving the dock sometime later this year. In the meantime, the crew members on board the ship have been busy printing out anything from plastic syringes, to oil tank caps, to model planes used for the mock-up of the flight deck. The Navy believes that they are still several years away from being able to print out actual spare parts for aircraft or the ship itself.
Lt. Benjamin Kohlmann, a fighter pilot and member of the Chief of Naval Operation’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC), told BreakingDefense.com, “Additive manufacturing has to get to the point where a part printed on the machine has the same strength and overall properties that a cast part has,” he said. “In some cases that is the case today. In others, in many more cases, it’s not…. Tensile and strength ratings don’t meet what’s required for high-stress environments.”
It will be interesting to see how the printer performs once the ship leaves the comfort of the dock. Rolling waves, and the vibration of engines, which have a total output of 70,000 horsepower, could really throw the calibration of the printers off. The Navy has been working on instrumentation for the printer to hopefully compensate for any unexpected movement, but will have to wait and see if such instrumentation works. Either way, this is a major step in the right direction for the Navy, who prides themselves on technologically advanced equipment, as well as soldiers capable of managing that equipment. Discuss the Navy’s installation of a 3D Printer on the USS Essex at 3D Print Board.