“Print Me a Cruiser” : The Future of the US Fleet

Navy, sea, ship, build, piping, ducting, parts, ProceedingsAccording to the Navy publication Proceedings Magazine, “The 3D printing revolution will radically change naval construction.”

In the magazine’s most recent issue, Lt. Cheney-Peters and Lt. Hipple argue that the future of naval design and manufacturing could be based on a 3D printing paradigm. In an interview with MakerBot’s Peter Schmehl, Cheney-Peters learned that 3D printing could “radically change ship construction, making designs that might not be possible using conventional techniques.” Provided the build volume was large enough, a ship’s hull, along with its duct work and piping, could be built in one fell swoop rather than relying on numerous crews to complete construction in a step-by-step fashion.

The idea of a large build volume eventually led to the second, and possible most profound, advantage of 3D printing a ship. “The traditional production technique, subtractive manufacturing, starts with a “billet” and whittles it down to the desired product, wasting up to 90 percent of the material.” With the cost of modern materials increasing with their sophistication, the Navy is looking for a solution to reduce material costs, and 3D printing is the obvious answer.

However, the two authors don’t see 3D printing’s benefits ending at the design and manufacturing phase. They believe that, in the near term, 3D printers could find a home aboard today’s ships. “Augmenting shipboard supply departments with 3D printers can alleviate the need to carry large stocks of pre-manufactured stores. Instead of spending weeks trying to track down a repair part or seldom-used consumable, a repair-parts petty officer could scan the discarded part labeled with a barcode or quick response (QR) code, or some other embedded identifier that, once scanned, sends the item’s schematics to queue at the nearest printer.”

While the authors readily admit that many of their ideas are “visions of the future, in some cases quite far off, should they ever really come to pass,” the fact that the Navy is considering 3D printing as a strategy shows an openness to technological develop that can only serve it well.

Read More at USNI

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia