(DAHLGREN, Va.) From reproducing a human head to rapidly
prototyping a robot using 3D printing (Additive Manufacturing), technological
advances make this a reality for today’s military. At NAVSEA’s Naval Surface
Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) and the Combat Direction Systems
Activity (CDSA) Dam Neck in Virginia, the Navy is expanding the use of 3D
Printing across its science and engineering community.
Navy officials hosted a 3D Print-A-Thon at NSWCDD on Dec. 2.
The event exposed the Dahlgren workforce to available 3D technologies, educated
engineers and scientists on 3D design guidelines, allowed experimentation and
sought out innovative ideas to leverage 3D Printing to benefit the warfighter.
“We are on the ground floor of 3D Printing,” said Dennis
McLaughlin, NSWCDD Technical Director, addressing approximately 100
participants. “We need to move past the trinket stage and come up with examples
for senior leaders to see…Let’s come up with ideas for what else we can do.”
NSWCDD was the first warfare center with a metal 3D printer.
These devices significantly reduce production time, allowing rapid deployment
of equipment part replacements back to the field. Several products created
using 3D Printing were on display at the Print-A Thon.
Attendees saw a replica of a warship’s Command Center Design
console, a small low-fidelity 3D model used to gather input on layouts from the
fleet on both coasts. Due to the portable, lightweight nature, these models are
reused over an extended amount of time, significantly reducing hours required
to create small scale mockups by hand.
3D printing the components saves a considerable amount of time and labor
while producing more durable models.
Another example of rapid 3D development is the Rapid
Prototype HexaPod Robot which is in the early research and development phase.
The robot could provide several advantages to the warfighter such as low-power
movement through difficult terrain, considering its small, covert, low-profile
heat signature. Engineers are able to transition from concept to full prototype
in four weeks as compared to three to four months without 3D technology.
Just 12 hours before the December Print-A-Thon, engineers
decided the robot was too heavy and was able to remanufacture the base and top
within a short frame of time, reducing the weight from 2.65 kilograms to 2.06
kilograms. This is reflective of the bright future 3D printing holds for the
warfighter. "The ability to move additive manufacturing into the field
would allow for equipment to be made on demand, reducing the overall footprint
on the ground and dramatically increasing flexibility," said Jason
Phillips, an NSWCDD engineer in the Disruptive Technologies branch.
NSWCDD is also realizing the benefits of reproducing human
anatomy thanks to 3D Printing. Minimal effort is needed to fabricate complex
human features such as a human head. At the Print-A-Thon, Kevin Streeff, instrumentation
engineer, demonstrated how a laser tracking camera would be used to define a head.
In real-time as the head of a plastic
bust was scanned, a digital version appeared on the computer screen to set the
stage for printing. A whole body scan can be completed in less than two hours. This
far-reaching capability includes prosthetics design and manufacturing, cosmetic
and corrective surgery design, custom fit masks, and face pieces based on
scanning living anatomy. The scanning
technology can also be used scan mechanical components for modeling, analysis
These innovations were among 10 featured at the Print-A-Thon.
“We have a suite of varying 3D capabilities across the base,” said Ricky Moore,
Lead Mechanical Engineer for NSWCDD’s Disruptive Technologies Branch. “We are
developing lessons learned with regard to fabrication and design.”
President Obama has deemed 3D printing a technology that has
“potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything,” he remarked
during his 2013 State of the Union Address. The Department of Defense has been a leader in
utilizing 3D printing to save time and money. With origins dating back to the
1970s, 3D printing contrasts traditional manufacturing by adding, instead of
subtracting, substances such as metals or plastics to create an object.
For almost a decade, NSWCDD has employed additive
manufacturing to reduce development time, but the focus on solving fleet
problems began in 2013 when CDSA Dam Neck, working with CNO’s Rapid Innovation
Cell initiated the Navy’s consolidated effort to bring 3D printing to Fleet
sailors. The Navy’s first-ever
“Print-the-Fleet” was hosted by CDSA in June 2013 to raise Fleet awareness of additive
manufacturing and provide an understanding of how 3D printing can solve Fleet
problems. This two-day event also provided Navy AM professionals first-hand
feedback from Sailors on what they would like to see printed.