The U.S. Navy teamed up with Oak Ridge National Laboratory to print the military’s first 3D-printed submersible hull in just four weeks. The parts were printed in just days, rather than weeks, and production costs were cut by 90 percent.
The hull was printed at ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility in Hardin Valley through a partnership with the Navy’s Disruptive Technology Lab, according to a story published July 20 by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. ORNL is a DOE laboratory.
“ORNL and the Navy saw this is as an opportunity to bring together their resources and expertise in a partnership with the potential to revolutionize manufacturing in the defense sector,” the DOE story said. “Not only can the Navy find new ways to reduce traditional costs associated with manufacturing, but the lessons learned from this project will help ORNL further explore 3D printing applications in the boating industry, aerospace, buildings, and anything that requires a large, resilient structure. Partnerships like these help drive economic growth and reinforce our national security.”
The team working on the 3D-printed submersible hull needed to create a 30-foot proof-of-concept hull out of carbon fiber composite material, DOE said. The prototype vessel is called the Optionally Manned Technology Demonstrator, and it could be used to deploy logistics capabilities and sensors. Future vessels will need to be manufactured faster and incorporate new designs to support Navy missions, DOE said.
The submersible hull is the Navy’s largest 3D-printed asset, according to ORNL. It was developed by the U.S. Department of Energy and Department of Defense with support from academia and industry.
“It’s the first of several on-demand and disposable vehicles the Navy wants to print,” ORNL said in a video posted on Twitter.
The Optionally Manned Technology Demonstrator is 30 feet long, 4.5 feet in diameter, and made up of six carbon fiber composite sections. The Navy plans to print a second version of it to test at its wave testing facility in Maryland, ORNL said. Fleet-capable prototypes could be introduced as early as 2019.
3D printing, also called additive manufacturing, is the process of building an item layer by layer using metals, polymers, or ceramics. ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility has a Big Area Additive Manufacturing, or BAAM, machine made by a company called Cincinnati Incorporated. BAAM is 500 to 1,000 times faster and capable of printing polymer components 10 times larger than today’s industrial additive manufacturing machines, according to DOE.
“With just four weeks to get the job done, the Navy didn’t hesitate to get their feet wet—they dove right into learning about Big Area Additive Manufacturing,” DOE said. “The new technology deep-dive at the MDF lasted about a week. By week two they were printing their design. The rapid turnaround and round-the-clock printing of BAAM allowed the team to assemble the six pieces of the hull during the third week.”
The cost of a traditional hull ranges from $600,000 to $800,000 and typically takes three to five months to manufacture, DOE said. Using BAAM reduced hull production costs by 90 percent and shortened production time to a matter of days—giving the Navy the opportunity to create “on demand” vehicles while also saving time, money, and energy.
DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy said the Navy team has received the prestigious NAVSEA Commanders Award for Innovation, but they aren’t stopping yet.
“They’re taking the plunge on the next phase of the project: creating a second, water-tight version of the hull that will be tested in the wave pool at Carderock—an elite testing facility that mimics the most compromising conditions that ships and submarines could encounter in the open ocean,” DOE said.
Partners in the project included Oak Ridge National Laboratory; Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division’s Disruptive Technology Laboratory; Picatinny Arsenal; Navy Special Warfare, Office of Naval Research; Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; Naval Air Systems Command; the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory; Naval Surface Warfare Centers from Crane, Panama City, and Philadelphia; Naval Undersea Warfare Center Newport; and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
ORNL has also 3D-printed other parts for vehicles at the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility. Among them are a trim-and-drill tool that was 3D-printed for Boeing to use to manufacture wings for passenger planes, a replica Shelby Cobra, and parts for an excavator.
See the ORNL video here:
— Oak Ridge Lab (@ORNL) July 31, 2017
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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