The US Navy has installed a unique 3-D printer on the USS Essex, an amphibious assault vessel that was ported in Pearl Harbor in the US. It is the first time such a printer was installed on a US Navy vessel.
The installation was reportedly executed at the 2022 Rim of the Pacific event (RIMPAC 2022), a biennial exercise meant to boost cooperation among the naval forces based in the Indo-Pacific region. It is the largest international maritime exercise in the world and is headed from Pearl Harbor.
The Wasp-class Essex will evaluate the use of the Xerox metal printer to assess the suitability and possibility of manufacturing amid strong, rolling waves and engine vibrations.
Lt. Cmdr. Nicolas Batista, the Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department (AIMD) officer on Essex, mentioned that having such a printer on board will accelerate war-fighting readiness.
The 3D printer’s capabilities will empower Essex to be more self-sufficient.
The Essex was the first US Navy ship to receive a 3D printer of any kind when they reportedly installed a plastic printer onboard in 2014. The printer also displayed the capability to receive design files via a satellite where the parts had been printed onboard.
The world of AM has undergone significant changes since then, and Essex has upped their game with a new metal printer that can print aluminum parts up to 10ft x 10ft. With the new printer, crew members can produce replacement parts at sea, including heat sinks, bleed air valves, fuel adapters, valve covers, housings, and more.
There’s precedent for using metal AM components on ships of the US Navy, as they’ve earlier shown during the printed metal drain strainer orifice (DSO) installation in 2018 on a ship named the USS Harry S Truman. This was reportedly the first occasion when a printed part was installed on a vessel of the US Navy.
The demonstrated utility of the project has helped inform the crucial decision to install a new printer on board the USS Essex.
It is not only the military getting in on the action. Earlier in 2022, a commercial tanker reportedly printed a metal component on board and also installed it while at sea. This was the first time a sea vessel printed its metal component when it was at sea.
Batista said that Additive Manufacturing (AM) is a priority today, and it is also evident that AM will provide an improved posture in war-fighting efforts across the fleet. It will likely enhance expeditionary maintenance, contributing to the Surface Competitive Edge.
References: 3D Print, 3D Printing Industry, U.S. Pacific Fleet