Submarine parts will be 3D printed by General Dynamics and Huntington Ingalls Industries.

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3D Printing Revolutionizes US Navy Submarine Manufacturing

Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) and General Dynamics Electric Boat (GDEB) have joined forces to revolutionize the production of US Navy submarines through additive manufacturing (AM). The collaboration aims to accelerate the use of AM on the Virginia-class submarines, which currently serve as the second-largest class of submarines in commission, with 21 ships actively in service.

To further enhance the project, HII and GDEB have partnered with AMMCON, a small and medium enterprise (SME) manufacturer with extensive experience in supplying parts to the US Navy and its prime contractors. AMMCON, based in Oregon but also operating in Florida, brings valuable expertise to the collaboration.

The initial implementation of AM for parts on an in-service vessel will take place on the Virginia-class submarine Oklahoma (SSN 802). HII, GDEB, and AMMCON will install a deck drain assembly printed in copper-nickel using AM technology. The groundwork for this collaboration was laid in March when Naval Sea Systems (NAVSEA) approved HII Newport News as a vendor of 3D printed parts. HII has been diligently working on certifying 3D printed parts for naval vessels for years and received certification in 2018 for deck drains on surface vessels. Moreover, in October 2022, the navy became the first US military branch to utilize 3D printing to fulfill an order for deck drain components for surface vessels.

Dave Bolcar, the VP of engineering and design for HII Newport News Shipbuilding, highlighted the significance of this collaborative project, stating, “As a leader in AM for shipbuilding, we are aggressively looking for opportunities to incorporate this technology into mainstream shipbuilding. This project takes advantage of authorizations made by the Navy that simplify requirements for low-risk AM parts. It is only possible due to the foresight and long-term development efforts by our engineers in deploying AM marine alloys for shipbuilding.”

Megan Roberts, GDEB’s VP of quality, waterfront engineering, radiological controls, and fleet support, emphasized the focus of their submarine design and engineering teams on accelerating the adoption of innovative technologies. She expressed the benefits of additively manufactured parts in reducing lead times for critical components, enabling faster production of submarines to meet the Navy’s fleet demands.

Keeping up with the US military’s progress in AM capabilities can be challenging due to the frequency of announcements. However, in combination with earlier milestones, this collaboration exemplifies the trajectory of progress. Initial advancements are cautiously made, slowly building momentum until certification occurs. This pattern suggests that the US military is on the cusp of a major breakthrough in scaling up AM for production. Certification precedents established across different branches, combined with the ongoing development of digital infrastructure for military supply chains, create a realistic potential for exponential growth rates. The Department of Defense is known for its ability to accelerate growth, making it an organization to watch in terms of expanding AM capabilities.

To stay informed about the latest news in the 3D printing industry and receive information and offers from third-party vendors, make sure to stay up-to-date. The future of submarine manufacturing is being reshaped through the power of additive manufacturing.

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