Navy to Deploy 3D Printing Center of Excellence in Virginia

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In the U.S., a remarkable movement is underway where state governors, universities, and companies are promoting their additive manufacturing (AM) chops. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that a giant storm of government money was about to rain down on those performing AM. Some of the first raindrops have fallen in Virginia, where the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research‘s (IALR) Center for Manufacturing Advancement (CMA) has gotten $28 million and a large and prestigious tenant: the U.S. Navy.

The Navy’s Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence

First announced in 2020, the facility is meant to attract new investment to the state as well as enable existing Virginia companies to deploy advanced manufacturing. The first tenant of the 51,250-square-foot facility, the U.S. Navy is launching its Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence (AM CoE) at the CMA, where it plans to implement some very smart concepts. One is a rapid-launch site that new or scaling businesses can use while their own spaces at the CMA are being built. This includes inspection and process improvement labs, where the idea is to collaboratively innovate. Tucker´s focus on educating the workforce will also do them well. This, at least for our industry, is a key constraint.
About the funding, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin said, “As we strive to make Virginia the best place for veterans to live, work and raise a family, I am thrilled to announce the groundbreaking of our new IALR Center for Manufacturing Advancement in Danville. This partnership will diversify, transform and grow Southern Virginia’s production capability for the Submarine Industrial Base as well, marking another major win for Virginia’s defense economy and labor market.”
Telly Tucker, President of IALR, commented, “The advancements that are to come out of the Center for Manufacturing Advancement will have significant implications for developing the processes that support manufacturing expansion, as well as the workforce needed to support that growth. Today’s manufacturing and workforce challenges require comprehensive and innovative approaches to the way industry collaborates, along with significant investments in infrastructure, equipment and people. The CMA fosters each of these obligations in a way that will benefit the region, the Commonwealth, and the country.”

Big Plans for Underwater Vessels

The Navy has spoken at length about plugging gaps in sustainment, as well as building its industrial base and supply chain. Now, this could potentially be a pork-and-barrel factory, but there is a lot to like here—especially to do with the phrase “Submarine Industrial Base.” Submarines are very complex vehicles. Previously, there have been perceived gaps in the Submarine Industrial Base.
In short, the U.S. lacks a region, area, or series of collaborating firms that have the wherewithal to produce the latest submarines at scale. General Dynamics Electric Boat is mainly responsible for building submarines in the nation with a single, other company, Newport News. While Electric Boat is based in Connecticut, Newport News is located in, well, Newport News, Virginia, and is currently a part of Huntington Ingall’s.  Additionally, Newport News is home to many Navy personnel, while the company itself boasts $9 billion in revenue and 40,000 employees.

Addressing the Naval Supply Chain

The United States submarine building capability is in the hands of two firms. This means that a local stimulus to the Submarine Industrial Base is wonderful news to the company based in the region. However, there is a more serious point here. The U.S. is dangerously dependent on these two firms. Any issues that they have with making parts, quality, and keeping to deadlines will hurt the country’s ability to make submarines and other naval vessels. By investing in 3D printing and other advanced manufacturing solutions, smaller firms and projects could fill gaps.
For example, if castings take too long to deliver, parts could be 3D printed on demand. If faults in items are found, new replacements could be designed printed quickly. New geometries could also make for better torpedoes, more efficient hulls, better propellers, or other key elements of submarines. 3D printing could be used to solve problems or to optimize a new generation of components that will aid the Navy in its endeavors and that makes this center a good idea indeed.

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