3D Printing Out At Sea


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Modern warships are designed for prolonged voyages, carrying enough supplies to sustain crew for extended periods of time and enough spare parts to fix equipment that inevitably breaks. Sometimes, enough is not enough, however, and delivering replacement parts to a warship can in itself be a costly mission.

This is why the US Navy is turning to the latest technology, 3D printing, to enable crew to manufacture custom parts as needed. So far, two ships have been equipped with the miniature fabrication labs: the aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman and the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge. Both are currently deployed to the Middle East to assist the fight against ISIS.

“The whole goal is really to make us more self-sufficient as we deploy,”  said Commander Brady Drennan. “Because when we leave the pier, we basically leave all the supplies, all the equipment, all the tools there.”

The ‘fab lab,’ as it is known, consists of two 3D printers and a desktop computer. The two printers are similar in shape and size to the more familiar desktop printer.

The sailors are getting familiar with the ‘fab lab’ by a process of trial and error, designing and printing parts as needs arise.

In one instance, an ordnance officer required a computer monitor to be hung from a specific angle, as there was not enough floor or desk space in his work area. A custom floating stand was designed and printed for the purpose.

“It’s just one of those kind of unique things that aren’t in any kind of office – it’s ship life, so it’s one of those practical uses that we can use to help their lives,” said Lt Casey Staidl of the USS Truman.