China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) navy is reported to have installed Additive Manufacturing (AM) systems on a number of its ships to replace critical small components. According to PLA Daily, the system was recently put to use for the on-board repair of a transmission gear on a navy destroyer following a breakage that occurred when the vessel was anchoring.
Whilst naval vessels carry many small replacement parts with them on voyages, the ability to manufacture a wide range of components from a variety of materials on-board provides clear advantages.
“We have benefited from the use of 3D printing technology,” Ren Yalun, an officer in the ship’s mechanical and electrical section, told PLA Daily. “The 3D printer is like a miniature processing and manufacturing workshop that is able to quickly mend or produce parts, even nonstandard components.”
The PLA’s Academy of Armoured Forces Engineering is also reported to have developed a specialised AM system that can make most metal parts of an armoured vehicle or tank. The newspaper cited Xu Binshi, a senior PLA expert on equipment repair, as saying “It can print a part at a speed of up to 100 grams per second, but precision components such as gun barrels are still beyond its capability.”