Additive manufacturing, often referred to as 3D printing, is rewriting the rules of mass production, from intricate prototypes to complex, fully functional end-products. As the US Navy moves forward with its vision of producing three submarines per year, additive manufacturing stands out as a critical enabler.
Read on to learn more about how additive manufacturing and the Strategic & Spectrum Missions Advanced Resilient Trusted Systems (S2MARTS) OTA are here to change the Navy’s plan for manufacturing.
Goals for the U.S. Navy
The U.S. Navy’s goals for manufacturing submarines in the coming years are multifaceted, with an ultimate goal of advancing maritime capabilities.
Firstly, the Navy aims to use cutting-edge technologies to improve our submarines’ stealth, speed, and endurance, to stay at the lead in defensive and offensive circumstances. Improved sensor systems, automation and artificial intelligence will be added to boost situational awareness and responsiveness.
Currently in the Navy, there is a focus on sustainability, with efforts directed towards developing more energy-efficient propulsion systems and eco-friendly materials.
Finally, the Navy wants to increase the number of submarines that are produced per year, to stay ahead of our global competitors. Currently, the two main Navy shipyards are currently on pace to deliver about 1.2 submarines a year, with goals to increase this number.
The U.S. Navy must 3D-print more parts if it is to build three submarines per year, said a top program manager, which leads us to how additive manufacturing will be the next big step to hit the Navy’s manufacturing goals.
Additive Manufacturing vs Traditional Casting and Forging
Additive manufacturing (AM) and traditional casting and forging are two ways to produce parts for submarines.
Traditional casting and forging involve shaping metal through molten processes or mechanical deformation, respectively. This method has been the common choice for submarine parts due to its reliability and established material properties.
On the other hand, AM revolutionizes manufacturing by building components layer by layer from digital models. In submarine part production, AM offers advantages such as intricate design flexibility, reduced waste, and the ability to produce complex geometries.
While traditional casting and forging remain important for components with firm requirements, AM is gaining traction for prototyping and creating components that need optimal structures.
Additive Manufacturing to Aid in the Mission
Additive manufacturing is poised to play a big role in driving the U.S. Navy’s submarine production plan to new levels of efficiency.
Adopting additive manufacturing techniques in submarine construction offers many benefits, ranging from more design flexibility to quicker production timelines. By using 3D printing, the Navy can create intricate components with less material waste, streamlining the manufacturing process. The U.S. Navy uses additive manufacturing to produce everything from tiny plastic clips to large scale proof of concepts of submarine hulls.
Additionally, the decentralized nature of additive manufacturing allows for on-site production of spare parts, meaning less dependence on traditional supply. It can also be used to build spare parts that may be needed while on the submarine or create custom drones to be used for defense applications, all while printing from inside the submarine.
As an example, the USS New Hampshire (SSN 778), a Virginia-class attack submarine, has installed an industrial-grade polymer/composite 3D printer, which will be used to replace/repair items while the submarine is out at sea. The 3D printer installed is a Markforged X7 field edition 3D printer, which can print carbon fiber-reinforced nylon parts, making repairs for pipe leaks and electrical enclosures much more time-efficient.
3D printing as the future of internal manufacturing for the Navy seems to be the consensus among those making the decisions. Matt Sermon, executive director of the Program Executive Office, Strategic Submarines said, “I earnestly believe that metallic additive manufacturing is the path to the capability and capacity you need for critical materials in the submarine industrial base. And that same holds true for surface ships, and its systems, and for sustainment as well.” Sermon is seen as a leading voice for the Navy to revive the nation’s manufacturing capacity.
Seeing as the transition from traditional casting and forging to AM is on everyone’s minds, how has the Navy begun this process already?
Integration in Navy Ships
Additive Manufacturing has already begun spreading throughout manufacturing in the Navy. Here are a few examples of Navy integration of AM:
S2MARTS on the Forefront
In using AM for submarine part manufacturing, AM can create parts with internal channels, lattice structures or variable properties that can improve the performance, weight, or stealth of the submarines. It can also reduce the number of parts needed for assembly, simplifying the design, and reducing the risk of failure. This is an area in which S2MARTS projects are directly propelling the industrial base forward.
This need for parts with complex geometry is similar to the desire of Growing Additive Manufacturing Maturity for Airbreathing Hypersonics (GAMMA-H), a project awarded through the S2MARTS OTA. This project is looking to use AM to craft intricate hypersonic weapons parts to create specialized lightweight structures that can withstand high temperatures and flight environments while maintaining robust, lightweight designs.
AM enables construction of complex, thin-walled, multi-channeled structures with heat-resistant materials, capable of dealing with engine thermal management requirements during operation.
Furthermore, Hypersonics Advanced Manufacturing Test Capability (HAMTC), a similar project, is addressing hypersonic weapons manufacturing challenges by developing a prototype that refines advanced materials manufacturing proof-of-concept for hypersonic vehicle applications for vertical supply chain integration. This will include the utilization of digital engineering tools and advanced Additive Manufacturing (AM) processes.
By fortifying the industrial base for AM in hypersonics, S2MARTS is guaranteeing a strength in the AM industry for years to come. With projects like GAMMA-H and HAMTC, the ability to make more complex parts in new and innovative ways will further the mission of implementing the Navy’s submarine plan.
Pushing Towards Innovation
The U.S. Navy’s push for additive manufacturing in submarine production marks a shift towards embracing innovative technologies to address longstanding challenges.
As the Navy moves forward with its vision of producing three submarines per year, additive manufacturing stands out as a critical enabler, ensuring the strength and readiness of the U.S. submarine fleet in the years to come.
The Strategic & Spectrum Missions Advanced Resilient Trusted Systems (S²MARTS), managed by NSTXL, is the premier rapid OT contracting vehicle for the Department of Defense (DoD) in trusted microelectronics, strategic & spectrum mission, and other critical mission areas. The Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC), Crane Division created S²MARTS to grow and engage an elite network of innovators, shorten the path to defense prototype development, and advance national security efforts.
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