The USS Essex has become the first Navy vessel with a 3D printer on board, allowing crew members to print disposable medical supplies, non-critical parts, and other items.
The Stratasys uPrint SE Plus 3D printer was installed on the amphibious assault ship during an ongoing maintenance overhaul, and has been outfitted with instrumentation to measure its performance relative to engine vibration and ship movement.
“I’m very excited to test this machine,” said Capt. J. L. Jenkins, Essex’s commanding officer. “There are plenty of low-risk, high-value applications it can be used for. Several small, non-critical parts can be made.”
According to the Navy, the 3D printing pilot will test the technology’s ability to increase warfighting ability, and to see if it can be used cost-effectively. According to this piece on Breaking Defense, the crew has used the printer to create a cap for an oil tank and model planes that can be used on a mock-up of the flight deck.
The printer could also be used to make other parts like brackets or clasps. The goal would be to ultimately produce critical parts in theater, to help reduce reliance on the long, complex and often harrowing defense supply chain.
“We just need to find what tools and equipment we can print to assist daily operations and shipboard projects,” said Jenkins. “Through testing and necessity we can create a wish list of what equipment to produce.”
The Essex pilot is part of the Chief of Naval Operation’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC) Print the Fleet (PTF) project, which was designed to improve access to additive manufacturing within the Navy. The Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP) is working on a data repository for model files that could be printed at remote locations using approved 3D printers.
Source: U.S. Navy