U.S. Navy Approves 3D Printed Parts from Nuclear Ship Leader

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As suggested in a story from 3DPrint.com Macro Analyst Matt Kremenetsky, anything related to securing the U.S. manufacturing supply chain is currently getting a significant boost from the Biden Administration, the Department of Defense, and even Congress. And any company that fits into that end goal is taking advantage of the situation. While Matt highlighted Sintavia and Collins Aerospace, the Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS) division of HII (NYSE: HII) has since announced that it was approved as a vendor to 3D print parts for Naval Sea Systems (NAVSEA) platforms.

NAVSEA Approval of 3D Printed Pipefittings

In 2018, NAVSEA approved technical standards for 3D printing after collaborating with HII and industry partners to test parts and materials, as well as developing a testing program and publishing the results. This was followed by the first 3D-printed metal part, a piping assembly, that was delivered to the U.S. Navy for installation on the NNS-built USS Harry S. Truman the following January, in 2019. NNS has continued to receive approval for other metal 3D printed parts on U.S. Navy ships.

3D printed pipefittings from NNS. Image courtesy of NNS.

This latest certification is for 316/316L stainless steel 3D printed pipefittings, which can now be installed on aircraft carriers, submarines, and other NAVSEA platforms. With this achievement, NNS will be exploring approval for a broader use of 3D printing across the Navy.

“Innovation is driving our business transformation at Newport News Shipbuilding,” NNS Vice President of Engineering and Design Dave Bolcar said. “Our continued advances in additive manufacturing are revolutionizing naval engineering and shipbuilding. This will continue to propel our progress in efficiency, safety and affordability as we remain steadfast in our mission to deliver the critical ships our Navy needs to protect peace around the world.”

Nuclear Power and Nuclear Energy

With annual revenues of about $9 billion, HII is the largest shipbuilder in the U.S. and boasts a history of over 135 years. NNS is the largest industrial employer in Virginia, the only manufacturer of aircraft carriers for the U.S. Navy, and one of two builders of U.S. Navy nuclear submarines. The company is also the only manufacturer of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.

This ties in directly with the news Matt reported on mentioned at the top of this article, as AM service provider Sintavia has been contracted with Bechtel Plant Machinery, Inc (BPMI), to develop a Florida AM facility for the U.S. Navy to support the United States Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program for nuclear-powered subs.

Interestingly, NNS has also been involved in the energy sector, building liquefied natural gas carriers and even constructing floating nuclear power plants for Public Service Electric and Gas Company with Westinghouse Electric Company. While the immediate application of a nuclear sub is obviously military defense, there is an interesting synergy there related to power generation.

This could be particularly important as climate change and peak oil use drive the need for other fuel options, and as rising sea levels potentially lead to a greater reliance on naval powers. In a world destabilized by global warming and resource scarcity, a mobile nuclear power plant could be an ironically stable method of providing electricity. On the one hand, as Wikipedia puts it:

“The advantage of such power plants is their relative mobility and their ability to deliver in-situ electric power “on demand” even to remote regions, since they can be moved or towed to position with relative ease within large water bodies, and then docked with coastal facilities to transfer the produced power and heat to a land power grid.”

On the other, as Wikipedia also puts it:

“…[E]nvironmental groups are concerned that floating nuclear power plants are more exposed to accidents than onshore power stations and also pose a threat to marine habitats.”

If there is the potential for overlap there, it certainly falls into HII’s wheelhouse as a builder, operator, and decommissioner of nuclear power plants for the Department of Energy. Additionally, the corrosion-resistant copper alloy NNS developed with 3D Systems (NYSE: DDD) could find a value beyond maritime and in the nuclear sector.

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