Lately, it seems everyone is talking about 3D printing and additive manufacturing. This revolutionary technology has been a major plot point on the prime time medical drama Grey’s Anatomy, and CNN recently reported that astronauts on the International Space Station are now using a 3D printer to print parts inexpensively in space.
And then there’s the Print the Fleet program, described in this article. Print the fleet is a CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC) project designed to develop the infrastructure and processes for the US Navy to utilize 3D printing and additive manufacturing technologies. The potential benefits underway include on-demand part printing for the fleet and more efficient replacements for obsolete parts and parts with long lead times.
Additive Manufacturing is the process of creating an object from a digital 3D model by building it up in layers, rather than by starting from a solid block of material and removing the unwanted portions. Manufacturing methods include fused deposition modeling (FDM), which extrudes a thin thread of (usually plastic) material to build models, and powder bed fusion, which heats layers of powdered metal to form a model. 3D printing technology is changing rapidly, and the ability to use more varied material has made it possible to print relatively inexpensive prosthetic limbs, metal gas turbine blades, and complex rocket parts.
Additive manufacturing saves time in the design process; engineers can test mechanical designs without waiting for a machine shop to manufacture, verify, and ship prototypes. Here at WR Systems, we provide hardware, technical and engineering services in our support of the Rapid Response Design and Development group at Combat Direction Systems Activity (CDSA). This involves verifying design prototypes with additive manufacturing processes prior to sending designs to be manufactured.
In June and August, CDSA’s Print the Fleet project held several Makers’ Events at Dam Neck to introduce additive manufacturing to DoD civilians and warfighters. Additional workshops are planned for FY 15.