WEST BETHESDA, Md. – A ship model of USS District of Columbia (SSBN 826), built by Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC), Carderock Division’s Curator of Navy Ship Models, was sent to the Secretary of the Navy’s office at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., in August 2022.
This journey from idea to reality is a model story of inter-command collaboration, utilizing some of NSWC Carderock’s latest technologies.
The USS District of Columbia is the first of a projected 12 Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines to replace the Ohio-class submarines. Construction started in 2020 with the keel laying ceremony held at Quonset, Rhode Island, on June 4, 2022. SSBN 826 will be deployed in 2027. According to Carderock’s Assistant Curator Jennifer Marland, the ship model has a deep connection to the command.
“In 1890, Rear Adm. David Taylor decided the Navy needed a world-class model building program to build display ships comparable to the admiralty models being built in France and England,” she said. “That started our model loan program and the latest and greatest ships of the Navy had a model built of them that could travel. The program was meant to build up excitement for the new ships that were being designed scientifically using the Experimental Model Basin at the Washington Navy Yard, the predecessor of the David Taylor Model Basin.”
The model’s journey started as an order from Carderock’s Fabrication and Technical Support (F&TS) Division, where technicians, such as Adam Smith and Ryan Franke of the Subtractive and Additive Manufacturing Branch, constructed the model through 3D printing and other processes. The decision to print out the object, in part or totally, depended on factors like size and expense.
“It’s primarily a cost-related decision,” Smith said. “The scale dictates how we manufacture it. If the object is small enough that we can print it in one or two pieces, we will 3D print the whole thing. As things get bigger, we lose some of the cost benefit of 3D printing because of how robust they need to be. At a certain scale, we’ll look at different manufacturing processes to try and save money for everyone involved.”
The F&TS Division team uses the same technologies for making display models and testing models, which are used at the command, other Warfare Centers and military testing sites. While most of the models are 3D printed, the team also creates parts, such as scaled rotating antennae and simulated smoke stacks.
Collaboration took place between Carderock’s F&TS Division, Curator Shop and Naval Architecture and Engineering Department.
“When we collaborate, we usually have set tasks,” Smith said. “Primarily, we do manufacturing here. When we work with other offices, they do the finishing work. We manufacture the part and we’ll do a very rough finish here. They can do the final finish and paint the parts.”
Completed models are sent to the experts in the curator’s office for finishing touches. The curators also handle the logistics of the loan program.
Another benefit to using additive manufacturing capabilities in constructing models is that it saves time, according to Ship Model Conservator Brian Potter. Potter was one of the main contributors to building the model of USS District of Columbia.
“I painted and built the base for the USS District of Columbia ship model,” Potter said. “It took a few days to complete, but if I had to make the model from scratch without the additive manufacturing group it would have taken more than a month.”
While cost and complexity pose challenges with fabricating models, the concerns for curators are how long the models will last and how the models will perform.
“We still don’t know the life expectancy of these materials, and the only way we’re going to find out is by having them out in the field where they can be monitored and reported on,” Marland said. “We know the traditional way of making models has worked for over a hundred years. We have a model that has had zero conservation needed on it that is over a hundred years old. We don’t know how long the new life span is.”
How long a model is on loan can vary with some models being on display for decades in places such as Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters at the Washington Navy Yard, the National Museum of the United States Navy and other institutions. USS Missouri, which is on display at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., is another example of how additive manufacturing benefits ship model building. The production of USS Missouri took about 70,000 labor hours, emphasizing the craftsmanship and attention to detail required for ship models.
Carderock’s Curator of Ship Models plays a critical role in preserving U.S. Naval history.
“The purpose of these models is to educate the American public and our allies, about our history and the history that will be made going forward,” Marland said.