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US Navy looks to significantly increase additive manufacturing for building and repairing ships

The US Navy installed a 3D printer on the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan in November 2022. (US Navy)

The US Navy (USN) is striving to bolster the use of additive manufacturing (AM) in shipbuilding and ship repairs, according to Rear Admiral Jason Lloyd, chief engineer and deputy commander for Ship Design, Integration and Naval Engineering at Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA).

“We have a national imperative to make additive manufacturing an interchangeable process for other types of manufacturing,” Rear Adm Lloyd said on 7 September during a keynote speech at the American Society of Naval Engineers (ASNE) Fleet Maintenance & Modernization Symposium.

Rear Adm Lloyd detailed the USN's plans to encourage greater AM use in shipyards and on ships, including the installation of additional 3D printers on more vessels.

The service has some hurdles to jump to do that, he said. “AM is not a programme of record,” he added, noting the USN often has to rely on research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) funding.

“It's a very difficult discussion in budget cycle,” Rear Adm Lloyd said, adding, though, the Pentagon recently made funding available to “scale up” the installation of 3D print shops on additional ships.

Amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) was the first USN warship to install a metal 3D printer in 2022. Amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) completed installation of a metal 3D printer in November 2022.

“Not only can they print the part, but they can also use it right after [printing it] on the ship.”

The ship already has printed a compressor that saved significant time on repairs, according to the NAVSEA chief engineer.

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