Additive Manufacturing (AM) and the Navy



From the Official Website of the United States Navy - 150113-N-RC246-137 BREMERTON, Wash. (Jan. 13, 2015) The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) moors pierside at its new home port at Naval Base Kitsap Bremerton. Nimitz is undergoing a planned incremental availability at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility where the ship will receive scheduled maintenance and upgrades. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan J. Mayes/Released)


Additive Manufacturing (AM), also known as 3D printing, is a manufacturing process that deposits materials layer-by-layer to build physical products. According to the Economist, AM has triggered a third industrial revolution because the technology presents new and expanding technical, economic and social impacts. Particularly, the increased accessibility to AM capabilities has allowed mass customization to become more widespread in industries such as aerospace, automotive, healthcare, and consumer products.

The digitization trend in manufacturing will shift most of the production operations carried out in traditional factories into the virtual world, creating benefits in terms of cost reduction and resource and energy efficiency. Additive Manufacturing is one of the major drivers of this evolution and will influence directly how we manufacture physical goods. By allowing the production of highly customized, complex shaped products in small numbers more flexibly and with lower labour input and with near-zero waste, additive manufacturing has a high potential to help European industry’s shift towards smart and sustainable manufacturing. Policy and regulations can play an important role to accelerate the full market uptake and the wide adoption of this transformative technology. Leveraging on the large Internal Market and bridging complementary capabilities across Europe will be key to this end. Therefore, EU-level policies would need address a range of topics in the areas of IPR, standardisation, health, safety & environmental regulations, competition, infrastructure, skills and research & innovation.

Advantages of AM : New solutions to high tech equipment challenges

  • Design freedom
  • Weight reduction, increased relative strength
  • Complexity not impacting costs
  • Temperature regulation (flow channels integrated for maximum cooling)
  • Reduction/Elimination of tooling (less parts and assembly work)
  • Reduction/Elimination of production steps
  • Shorter product development / project time / time to market
  • Unique coding of parts (track and trace, documentation)
  • Personalization/customization
  • Distributed and on-demand manufacturing (spare parts, long tail items)


Techniques and materials

Although the AM industry originated 25 years ago, it has transformed significantly

from its early days, when the primarily market was rapid prototyping. Today, the AM

industry is changing at a rapid pace.

The field of additive manufacturing encompasses a variety of unique processes with varying characteristics. These processes were previously categorized by a variety of researchers and have now been standardized by the ASTM International Committee F42 on Additive Manufacturing Technologies into the seven classes of the following table which presents an overview of process classes, examples of leading companies that make machines for each process, typical materials classes, and the most popular markets for use.

table techniques


Each of the processes has associated strengths and weaknesses related to the

following characteristics

  • The materials they can utilize (typically different polymers or metals but also
  • waxes and paper for some niche applications)
  • The speed at which they can build parts (build speed)
  • The dimensional accuracy and quality of the surface finish of the produced parts
  • The material properties of the produced parts
  • Machine and material costs
  • Accessibility and safety related to complexity of operation
  • Other capabilities, such as multiple colors

Despite significant progress in the field, a number of technical challenges remain. Issues such as material characterization and availability, among many others, have been identified by various groups as areas for improvement. Though many issues are being examined by groups in academia, industry, and government, some challenges would likely benefit from increased coordination and funding opportunities.


Standards: ASTM & ISO cooperation

Standards play an important role in the adoption of many technologies and, as of 2009, there has been significant activity in developing AM standards through the ASTM International F42 committee. There are currently four technical subcommittees working towards standards in materials and processes, terminology, design and data formats, and test methods. They have produced four standards to date and also charted new territory in a partnership with the ISO, signing a cooperation agreement that governs ongoing collaborative efforts between the two groups.

Navy specific related advantages and developments

NASA plans to use AM technologies on an International Space Station, hospitals are using 3D printers to build prosthetic limbs and biological materials that aid in surgery. With concern to the Navy, AM technologies represent a solution to current logistical problems that arise from operating on the high seas: possibilities seem large, starting to consider aircraft and ship parts which could be printed on the spot instead of waiting for them to be shipped or recreated on spot.

Within days or hours of identifying a needed part on a ship, a 3D model can be designed and uploaded to a printer for production, allowing for a more rapid response to the ship’s needs.

For example a high-end AM machine at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth (USA) is already saving the Navy thousands of dollars by producing prototypes for the new Gerald R. Ford-class of aircraft carriers. Instead of traditional wood or metal mockups to test ship alterations, shipyard engineers print much cheaper polymer models – in hours rather than days or weeks.

In the short term, ships deployed at sea could soon use 3D printers to build temporary replacement parts until more sturdy manufactured parts can be shipped from shore.

Medical devices and tools can also directly produced while sailing.

Furthermore a broadly speaking a strategy for reorganizing the Navy’s industrial supply chain to incorporate 3D printing should also be considered, while including new professionals ( as AM machines operators and CSD designers) on board.





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