By Yolanda R. Arrington
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

20170315_101707_editShipboard Tactical Additive Manufacturing “Quadcopter” (Photo: Yolanda R. Arrington/DoD News, Defense Media Activity)

The U.S. Navy put its 3-D printing talents on display at a 3-D Print-a-Thon at the Pentagon, March 15, 2017. Twenty naval organizations from across the Naval Research and Development establishment presented 3-D printed innovations. The equipment demonstrated the Navy’s enhanced warfighting capabilities and readiness, but the new innovations are also saving the Navy money.

We’re highlighting a few of the additive technologies that were on display.


Naval Surface Warfare Center Port Hueneme, California – Shipboard Tactical Additive Manufacturing “Quadcopter”
Three years ago, the Navy wanted to show how a tactical application of additive manufacturing could be done on board the USS Essex. Researchers worked with the fleet to define the requirements of the tactical operation, emailed files and assisted in the assembly and flight demonstration of a tactical unmanned aircraft, or quadcopter, in support of vessel boarding, search and seizure operations. The quadcopter was flight tested in the hangar bay of the USS Essex.

It took about eight hours to print the unmanned device, which can fly over enemy vessels to show sailors what’s inside. The drone innovation is saved as an open source file, which means anyone can print their own. And, the big advantage for the Navy: it only costs about $800 to print a quadcopter.

NSWC Carderock, Maryland – Optionally Manned Technology Demonstrator (OMTD)
Optionally Manned Technology Demonstrator
At 30 feet long, this is the largest 3-D printed object in the DoD. The full-scale Seal Delivery Vehicle surrogate was fabricated using additive manufacturing. It’s made of chopped carbon and took two days to print. The vehicle holds six sailors, is submersible and completely floods inside so the crew must wear scuba gear while on board. The innovation can be used to covertly move sailors from one place to another while being towed behind a ship.

Carderock is funding a second version of the OMTD that will be able to be towed in its test facility.

Air Amplifier for Zodiac Inflation
NSWC Dahlgren, Virginia – Air Amplifier for Zodiac Inflation
The air amplifier reduces the amount of compressed air needed to inflate Zodiac boats using the Venturi effect to accelerate the compressed air as it flows into the boat. The device is entirely produced by additive manufacturing, costs less than $100 to make and about three hours to print. Use of the air amplifier results in a 66 percent decrease in compressed air needed to inflate the boat.

Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, D.C. – SCIP-RR: Humanoid Robotic Head for HRI
Contemporary robotics platforms have longer lifespans than any of the sensors or computers that operate them. The Naval Research Laboratory created a modular humanoid robotic head that can accommodate a range of sensors and computers. The device also includes an interactive display surface to allow easy communications with its operators.

The entire innovation is 3-D printed, except for the visor.

Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, China Lake, California – Printed Air Inlet for Solid Fuel Ramjet
The air inlet design is critical to system performance, and conventional manufacturing methods can be limiting, but metal additive manufacturing allows the device to be produced in three days and cuts costs. Inlet development is crucial to the success of the next generation of high speed strike weapons. Traditional ramjets can cost about $14,000 to produce, but the 3-D printed one costs about $6,000. The Navy uses powdered steel to create the ramjet and a laser to fuse it together.

Navy leaders say the innovations displayed at the event demonstrate how the service is using additive manufacturing to enhance its warfighting capabilities, make components more lightweight, improve readiness and solve logistical and supply issues.

“Additive manufacturing is a potential game-changing technology for naval warfare. It accelerates capability development and will increase our readiness by reducing obsolescence or long lead time issues,” said John Burrow, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development, test and evaluation.

The technology also opens the door for new designs that weren’t possible through traditional, legacy manufacturing methods.

“I was excited to see all the examples of how our Department of the Navy workforce is exploring and implementing this technology,” Burrow said.

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3-D Printing: Evolving for Tomorrow Today through Additive Manufacturing

Image credits: Shipboard Tactical Additive Manufacturing “Quadcopter” (Photo courtesy of Naval Surface Warfare Center Port Hueneme Division); Optionally Manned Technology Demonstrator (Photo courtesy of Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division); Air Amplifier for Zodiac Inflation (Photo courtesy of Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division CDSA Dam Neck); Printed Air Inlet for Solid Fuel Ramjet (SFRJ) Technology Demonstration (Photo courtesy of Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, China Lake) and SCIP-RR: Humanoid Robotic Head for HRI (Photo courtesy of U.S. Naval Research Laboratory)