3D printing technology is used often in the military these days: the Marine Corps created a 3D printed surveillance drone and are learning to use the technology to solve on-site problems, and the Air Force in South Africa, Brazil, Israel, and the US have all found applications for the technology. The US Navy developed the cost-saving, 3D printed TruClip, and last year successfully tested three Trident II D5 missiles featuring a 3D printed component.
We’ve also seen submarines equipped with 3D printed parts, but Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has been working with the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division’s Disruptive Technology Lab to create the military’s first 3D printed submarine hull.
The submarine hull, called the Optionally Manned Technology Demonstrator (OMTD), was developed at ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) and is the US Navy’s largest 3D printed asset.
Building the 3D printed submarine was a massive team effort; other project partners included:
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
Naval Air Systems Command
Naval Surface Warfare Centers from Crane, Panama City, and Philadelphia
Naval Undersea Warfare Center Newport
Navy Special Warfare, Office of Naval Research
Portsmouth Naval Shipyard
The Navy had only one month to create a 3D printed, 30-foot proof of concept hull, using carbon fiber composite material. After getting a week-long crash course on ORNL’s Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) machine, the Navy spent another week 3D printing the hull around the clock on the BAAM; by the third week, the six 3D printed pieces of the hull were being assembled.
The design for the OMTD was inspired by the submersible SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV), which transports elite US Navy SEALs and their equipment to special ops missions. A typical SDV hull takes 3-5 months to manufacture, and can cost anywhere from $600,000 to $800,000, but thanks to the BAAM, the production time was majorly reduced and costs were cut by 90%.
These types of vehicles will need to be manufactured more quickly in the future, as well as incorporate different designs to support each mission, so the Navy’s recent work with ORNL on the OMTD gave them the chance to create an ‘on demand’ vehicle, while saving on cost, energy, and production time.
It’s been a little over three years since the US Navy installed its first 3D printer on the USS Essex. While the Navy continues to discover ways to use 3D printing technology to reduce manufacturing costs and time, ORNL learned important lessons from the OMTD project that will help scientists and researchers as they continue to work on exploring the applications of 3D printing in any industry that needs a large, strong structure – from buildings to boating and aerospace.
According to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, “Partnerships like these help drive economic growth and reinforce our national security.”
Last week, the Navy team responsible for the 3D printed OMTD hull received the prestigious NAVSEA Commanders Award, and will soon begin work on the second phase of the project – creating a second, water-tight version of the 3D printed submarine hull. This will be tested in the elite testing wave pool at Carderock, which mimics some of the more difficult conditions that ships and submarines are subjected to in open water. Fleet-capable prototypes of the hull could be ready for widespread use in the Navy as early as 2019. Discuss in the 3D Printed Submarine Hull forum at 3DPB.com.