3d printers

Navy uses 3D printers to turn warships into weapons factories

US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Isaak Martinez/DVIDS

  • The Navy recently outfitted the amphibious assault ship USS Essex with a high-speed 3D printer.
  • The Navy and Marines use it to print spare parts for drones.
  • 3D printing is seen as a way to reduce the inventory of spare parts on a warship, while still maintaining easy access to them.

    One of the largest US Navy warships now uses a 3D printer, allowing the crew to quickly produce spare parts for drones. The service hopes additive manufacturing technology will save it time and money, by reducing the need to stock spare parts, especially when a ship is at sea. It thinks 3D printers could be a day become a standard on all warships.

    arabian gulf oct 9, 2015 the wasp class amphibious assault ship uss essex lhd 2 transits the arabian gulf essex is the flagship of the essex amphibious ready group and, with the embarked 15th marine expeditionary unit 15th meu, is deployed in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of ​​operations U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Bradley J GeeReleased
    The Wasp-USS-class amphibious assault ship Essex (LHD 2) transits the Persian Gulf, 2015.

    US Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Bradley J. Gee/DVIDS

    The amphibious assault ship USS Essex is one of the largest warships in the fleet. Designed to carry Marines into combat, the ship is 831 feet long and displaces 40,000 tons when fully loaded. That’s a lot of ships, not to mention manned and unmanned aircraft, landing craft, and the equipment of the Marines on board. To keep Essex and her embarked Marines in top form, the ship is usually stocked with ample spare parts to sustain both the ship and a force of up to 5,000 Marines for up to 30 days.

    Keep plenty of spares for… pretty much everything is expensive and takes up a lot of storage space, which warships don’t have much of. Storing spares is a guessing game and if the services get it wrong during a six-month patrol at sea, the mission can suffer. If a vessel runs out of spares, it could be forced to airlift them, fend for themselves, or simply lose capacity altogether until the next port call.

    Philippine Sea February 5, 2022 United States Marine Corps Cpl Ryan Meyers, an amphibious assault vehicle mechanic assigned to Combat Logistics Battalion 11, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, works on a 3-D printing project aboard the wasp-class amphibious assault ship uss essex lhd 2 during exercise noble fusion, february 5, 2022, noble fusion demonstrates that forward deployed navy and marine corps naval expeditionary forces can quickly bring together teams of maritime expeditionary amphibious ready-to-use groups at sea, as well as an aircraft carrier strike group, along with other joint and allied force elements, to conduct lethal interdiction operations the sea, to seize key maritime terrain, to ensure freedom of movement and to create an advantage for us, our partners and allied forces, naval expeditionary forces train throughout the year in the indo-pacific to maintain navy readiness corps photo by sgt israel chincio
    U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Ryan Meyers is working on a 3D printing project aboard the Wasp– USS Essex-class amphibious assault ship (LHD 2) during Exercise Noble Fusion, Feb. 5, 2022.

    U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Israel Chincio/DVIDS

    This largely explains the US Navy’s interest in 3D printing. The service has been experimenting with so-called additive manufacturing since 2014, when it installed an ABS printer on Essex. The Navy used the printer to download print files from satellite and then print the weapons for a small quadcopter drone.


    ✅ Drone powerhouse


      Now in 2022, Essex received a newer, faster printer capable of more detail that can print metal parts from materials like aluminum; that means it can create things like “heat sinks, housings, fuel adapters, purge air valves, valve covers, etc,” according to a marine Press release. Warships typically have their own machine shops to produce parts, but “have never been able to manufacture anything with the precision and complexity that this new 3D printer will provide,” says Jonah Waage, tech tech. 2nd class aviation electronics, in the release.

      Philippine Sea February 5, 2022 United States Marine Corps Cpl Hudson Poole, an unmanned aerial surveillance operator assigned to the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, sets up 3d printed equipment for a stalker aboard the d wasp-class amphibious assault ship uss essex lhd 2 during exercise noble fusion, february 5, 2022, noble fusion demonstrates that forward deployed navy and marine corps naval expeditionary forces can quickly regroup forces maritime expeditionary amphibious ready task force teams at sea, along with an aircraft carrier strike group, along with other joint and allied force elements, to conduct deadly sea interdiction operations , to seize key maritime terrain, ensure freedom of movement and create an advantage for us, our partners and allied forces, naval expeditionary forces train throughout the a  born in the indo-pacific to maintain navy readiness corps photo by sgt israel chincio
      A 3D printed part is installed on a Stalker XE wing, Exercise Noble Fusion, February 2022.

      U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Israel Chincio

      A video of February 2022 shows a Lulzbot TAZ Draft Horse printer in action on board Essex. The printer is used to make aerilon mounts for a Stalker XE drone. The printing took place during Noble Fusion Exercisea joint air-land-sea exercise with Japan in the Philippine Sea.

      As 3D printing advances and the Department of Defense becomes more comfortable with the technology, its military uses will only grow. Today, the Pentagon prints relatively minor items, but as printers progress, they will eventually be entrusted with complex and critical pieces. This is especially important for parts used in older equipment, including aircraft, which the manufacturer no longer produces. If a maintenance unit has the correct specifications, it can simply turn on a 3D printer and print whatever it needs, reducing the wait time from weeks or months to just hours. The process is also significantly cheaper.

      The military sees additive manufacturing as an essential tool to support forward deployed forces. Imagine one day a ship carrying plug-in engines, avionics and payload packages for simple surveillance drones, then printing the wings and fuselages on demand. Instead of carrying several large drones on a ship like the USS Essex, the Navy and Marines could print and assemble them on demand. Thanks to 3D printing, in the near future, every US Navy warship could become a giant spare parts warehouse, an armament factory or an aircraft assembly plant.