The Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), Monterey, California, USA, has partnered with Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet (COMNAVSURFPAC) to install a metal Additive Manufacturing machine on the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD-2). The ship is reported to be the first to participate in the testing of the metal AM machine to evaluate its viability when out at sea.
Lt. Cmdr. Nicolas Batista, the Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department (AIMD) officer aboard USS Essex, explained that the installed metal AM machine is one of the fastest commercial AM machines available, capable of additively manufacturing aluminium. A variety of shipboard aluminium components are expected to be produced whilst at sea, including heat sinks, housings, fuel adapters, bleed air valves, and valve covers. Findings from the testing will be provided to NPS and COMNAVSURFPAC.
Batista stated, “Having this printer aboard will essentially accelerate, enhance and increase our warfighting readiness. The capabilities of the 3D printer will enable Essex to become more self-sufficient.”
The next step in the evaluation of the metal Additive Manufacturing machine will see training provided to sailors who will be operating the machine. While Essex has had the capability to manufacture small items required on the ship, Aviation Electronics Technician 2nd Class Jonah Waage noted, “We have never been able to make something with the precision and intricacy that this new 3D printer will provide which is important because it will contribute to saving time and money for our Navy in the long run.”
Batista explained that Commander Naval Air Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet (COMNAVAIRPAC) and Commander, Naval Air Systems Command (COMNAVAIRSYSCOM) have also initiated efforts to establish an AIMD work centre, specifically designed for the AM concept, and are advancing the capability of additively manufacturing required aircraft parts.
Batista added, “Additive Manufacturing has become a priority and it’s evident that AM will provide a greater posture in warfighting efforts across the fleet and will enhance expeditionary maintenance that contributes to our Surface Competitive Edge.”
The testing of the metal Additive Manufacturing machine on the ship follows the installation of Xerox’s ElemX Liquid Metal Additive Manufacturing machine at the NPS in 2021. The machine was provided under a collaborative research and development agreement in order for NPS to explore new ways the technology can deliver on-demand metal parts and equipment.