Navy 3D Spares Printing: 'The Future of Logistics'

By George Backwell
Monday, June 30, 2014
3D Printing workship Dam Neck: USN photo

The U.S. Navy hosted its first 'Maker Faire', a series of workshops titled, "Print the Fleet," to introduce 3D printing and additive manufacturing to Sailors and other stakeholders attending a two-day event held at Combat Direction Systems Activity (CDSA), Dam Neck, a Navy warfare center.

The Navy's event took place on the heels of the first White House Maker Faire, held June 18. The White House event showcased the work of entrepreneurs and forward thinkers from around the country, as well as students exploring Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) related skills. 

"When you consider the cost and vulnerabilities of our existing Navy logistics and supply chains as well as the resource constraints we face, it quickly becomes clear that we have to reimagine how we do business," said Vice Adm. Phil Cullom, deputy chief of naval operations for fleet readiness and logistics, during a video introduction. 

"When advanced manufacturing and 3D printing becomes widely available, we envision a global network of advanced fabrication shops supported by Sailors with the skills and training to identify problems and make products." 

The Navy aims to train Sailors with this expertise in the future, according to Cullom. Adopting 3D printing and other advanced manufacturing methods could drastically increase the speed of execution, improve readiness, decrease costs and avoid shipping parts around the world.

"Think of it as another tool in the toolbox," said Jim Lambeth, "Print The Fleet" lead at CDSA.

"If there is a part needed and it doesn't exist in the inventory, we could design the part on demand and that will help us cut costs. This is one of the advantages additive manufacturing is going to bring to the Navy." 

The Navy's vision is within days or hours of identifying a needed part on a ship, a model will be designed and uploaded to a database for printing, allowing for a more rapid response to the ship's needs. 

Earlier this year, amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) installed a compact 3D printer on board for testing. Essex successfully printed sample parts as well as trained its Sailors on computer-aided design software.

"It's the biggest thing happening on the deck plate," said Capt. Jim Loper, concepts and innovations department head at Navy Warfare Development Center. "We put the printer on Essex specifically to get it in Sailors' hands so they could play with the technology and so we could learn the best way to use the printer.


A number of Navy labs ashore have a 3D printing capability. But at sea, being able to use 3D printing successfully within the dynamic environment of a high sea state will be a major milestone.

"The future of logistics is 3D printing," said Loper. "The quantity of supplies we carry on board could be reduced significantly if we 3D print those products on the ship. There really are no limits."

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