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US Navy Submarine Installs Markforged 3D Printer

Virginia-class submarine USS New Hampshire (SSN 778), part of the US Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), now has a Markforged X7 field edition additive manufacturing (AM) platform installed onboard. NAVSEA’s AM Research and Development Program worked with the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Philadelphia, NSWC Carderock, and Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Newport to optimize the X7 field edition for the USS New Hampshire.

Markforged X7 Field Edition. Image courtesy of Markforged

It would be somewhat surprising if this weren’t the first installation of a 3D printer on a US Navy submarine, although the announcement of the news, via the publication Naval Technology, doesn’t explicitly refer to USS New Hampshire’s X7 as such. In any case, even though the X7 prints nylon composites, this development seems as significant as a similar announcement from last year, which involved the first metal AM platform to be permanently installed on a US Navy surface vessel.

In a comment to Naval Technology about the installation of the Markforged X7 field edition aboard the USS New Hampshire submarine, the assistant program manager for NAVSEA AM, Lewis Shattuck, said, “This system can be used to produce most of the currently approved Technical Data Packages that are available for sailors on the Joint Technical Data Integration site. These parts have been identified by NAVSEA engineers and fleet to address a variety of needs including standard or preventative maintenance, temporary replacements, quality of life products, drill props, tools and fixturing.”

USS New Hampshire, image courtesy of Wikipedia

NAVSEA chose the X7 because the printer displayed the capacity to remain stable in simulated shipboard scenarios, highlighting what an enormous business advantage it is for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in the 3D printing industry to even be selected to participate in war game exercises. That the X7 also appears to be user-friendly seems to have been another point in the machine’s favor. According to the crew of the USS New Hampshire, using the platform required no in-person training: its operators were all able to learn to print simply from the instructions that came with the X7.

About a year ago, the US Navy announced its submarines would start featuring 3D printed parts in 2023, and the Navy’s AM activity has both branched out, and expanded, since that announcement. In many ways, maritime could be the ideal sector for deploying AM, and tracking the weekly unfolding of sector increasingly bears that out.

That is the case concerning the US military, along with militaries around the world; and the progress is happening in the public sector, as well as in private industry. And as that progress continues, the thread I’m most curious to follow involves announcements like the present one, where AM is done not only for seagoing vessels, but on them, too.

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