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AMS Spring 2023

Naval Information Warfare Center Enlists MatterHackers to Test 3D Printing for Navy & Marines

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MatterHackers, the Southern California-based additive manufacturing (AM) original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and retailer, announced that it has entered into a partnership with the Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Pacific. Under the Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), MatterHackers will provide expertise, equipment, and printing materials in its collaboration with NIWC Pacific, to develop a wide range of military AM use-case applications for the US Navy and US Marine Corps.

In particular, MatterHackers will focus on use-cases related to ground vehicle equipment utilized by the Marines. Parts that are tested successfully by MatterHackers/NIWC Pacific and the Marines will be sent to the relevant Program Offices for further testing.

Image courtesy of MatterHackers

In a press release announcing the agreement, Mara Hitner, the VP of strategic partnerships at MatterHackers, commented, “MatterHackers has been working closely with our neighbors at Camp Pendleton in Southern California for years, and we are so excited to be able to dig deeper into their 3D printing needs with this CRADA. We want to help push those capabilities further with the right machines, materials, and training.”

Major Matthew Audette, an Advanced Manufacturing Systems Team Lead in the Marine Corps, explained, “The results of the CRADA will potentially aid in accelerating operationalization of commercial off-the-shelf 3D printing for government and military use, a task that has been well underway by the Marine Corps’ Advanced Manufacturing Operations Cell (AMOC).”

Sailor preparing 3D printer on USS New Orleans. Image courtesy of US Navy. Printer featured in this photo: LulzBot TAZ Pro.

In addition to making the Pulse line of 3D printers, a large number of different 3D printing materials, and design software for 3D printing, MatterHackers is also the US’s largest 3D printing retailer. Thus, the aspect of the project that Maj. Audette mentioned, concerning developing as many government and military applications as possible that can be used with commercially-available printers, makes MatterHackers an obvious choice for the military to partner with here.

The NWIC Pacific has gone through many different name changes since it was originally formed in 1977 out of two separate organizations, when it was first called the Naval Ocean Systems Center. Most recently, it was named the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific, prior to its latest name change, to the NIWC Pacific, in 2019.

Notably, NIWC Pacific is a Naval Working Capital Fund (NWCF) organization, meaning that it is funded by Navy and non-Navy sponsors, as opposed to appropriations from Congress. Like WCF organizations associated with the other branches of the US military, NWCF organizations primarily rely on sales revenue from the projects they develop and services they provide.

Therefore, MatterHackers’ partnership could end up being much more lucrative than the average government project, depending on the applications that ultimately result from the work the company does on this CRADA. This seems particularly true considering the growing significance of 3D printing to communications technologies in general, and especially those used in military applications. It will be interesting to see if other WCF organizations follow the NIWC Pacific’s lead in the near future.

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