US Navy Installs Meltio Hybrid Metal 3D Printer to Reduce Repair Times

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In 2022, the USS Essex became the first American Navy warship to install a metal 3D printer to ensure onboard repair capabilities of much-needed tools and parts. Now, the USS Bataan is following in its footsteps. The Naval assault ship announced the complete installation of a metal 3D printer on November 3, 2022. We have learned that the machine is a Phillips Additive Hybrid powered by Meltio and Haas.

Incorporated for onboard repair and fabrication of steel components, installing the first Phillips Additive Hybrid metal 3D printing solution on a U.S. Navy ship is an experiment that could be expanded to other carriers in the fleet. In fact, the Spanish-based manufacturing multinational Meltio is relying on the Philips Corporation, its U.S. distributor, to close more historic contracts that will offer other ships in the Navy the chance to install 3D printers for manufacturing parts and repair tools.

3D printer installed onboard USS Bataan by Kenya Latham, assigned to East Coast Repair. Image courtesy of Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Darren Newell.

Last October, East Coast Repair, a full-service marine repair, and fabrication contractor coordinated the on-load of the 3D printer aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship. Installed under a joint effort between the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) Technology Office and the Commander, Naval Surface Force (COMNAVSURFLANT), the Phillips Additive Hybrid has become the first hybrid system on a U.S. Navy ship.

Integrating the Meltio wire-laser metal deposition head on a Haas TM-1 computer numerical control mill – which has been proven to operate reliably in an afloat environment aboard several aircraft carriers – provides both an additive and subtractive manufacturing capability within the same system, which in turn increases efficiency and reduces waste when compared with typical machining, states Meltio.

One of the biggest selling points of the Phillips Additive Hybrid is that it is capable of traditional machining coupled with an additive manufacturing process using direct energy deposition technology. The result is that Phillips has successfully integrated the power of both subtractive and additive processes to produce and repair parts.

Phillips Additive Hybrid system. Image courtesy of Phillips Corporation.

For Meltio CEO Ángel Llavero López de Villalta, the technology has enormous potential in the naval and marine sector and defense in general, where it is necessary to manufacture on demand and at the point of need.

Like other military branches, the U.S. Navy is determined to rely on advanced manufacturing technologies to improve self-sufficiency for deployed ships and their crews and reduce supply chain lead times. The previously mentioned USS Essex received a giant liquid-metal 3D printer by Xerox – the ElemX – weighing 4,630 pounds and capable of heating aluminum up to 815°C (1500°F). Also, in 2022, SPEE3D’s WarpSPEE3D cold spray technology was used to print maritime military parts on demand and in various sea conditions.

Aside from the U.S. Navy, the maritime industry, in general, has had examples of companies making strides with 3D printing, like Norwegian multinational Wilhelmsen, which disrupted the supply chain for marine parts in 2017 after teaming up with AM company Ivaldi to create micro-factories that 3D print and deliver spare parts within hours. Another example is the Danish-funded Green Ship of the Future consortium, exploring onboard printing, large-scale 3D printing, 4D printing or repair, and reconditioning with 3D printing.

USS Bataan. Image courtesy of U.S. Navy.

With the USS Bataan 3D printer in place, NAVSEA Chief Engineer and senior officer Jason Lloyd anticipates the Navy will overcome both “obsolescence issues for ships and systems that have service lives measured in decades and directly contribute to enhanced operational availability of our systems and ships.”

Capable of printing 316L grade stainless steel, sometimes referred to as marine grade stainless steel, the Phillips Additive Hybrid system will offer sailors industrial-level manufacturing capabilities to print individual parts for systems that previously were not readily available without procuring the entire system at a significantly greater cost, stated Meltio.

Aside from the metal 3D printer onboard the USS Bataan ship, NAVSEA engineers installed a second 3D printer to produce polymer components. This printer enables the ship’s crew to print any of the NAVSEA-developed 300-plus AM Technical Data Packages that define the required design configuration and procedures to manufacture a part and ensure it performs properly.

This latest milestone for the USS Bataan represents a further step towards demonstrating industrially valuable application in the marine sector. Another aspect to consider is that the Department of Defense (DoD) is keen on reducing operating costs by improving its finances, and additive manufacturing is one way to potentially reduce the program’s cost while generating better parts quicker.

3D printers fitted onboard vessels at sea or military sites abroad present an ideal solution for maritime wear and tear. In a field where vessels are designed to serve decades and can potentially extend their lifespan by at least ten years, 3D printing could have a considerable impact on future fleets, thanks to its on-demand manufacturing capabilities, expanding the possibilities and saving time and money.

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