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Navy and Marine Corps Showcase 3D Printing Innovations and Impact at Pentagon Expo

By NSWCDD Corporate Communications Division | March 22, 2017

ARLINGTON, Va. - Dr. Ben Gould and Senior Chief Machinery Repairman (SW/AW) Sean Boykin are revolutionizing the Fleet, naval research labs, and shipyards - with a little help from their friends and 3D Printing.


They collaborated with additive manufacturing experts to improve warfighting capabilities and readiness throughout the 2017 Department of the Navy (DoN) 3D Print-a-Thon held at the Pentagon, March 15.


"The 3D Print-a-Thon was a tremendous opportunity to meet other 3D printing enthusiasts in the DoD and start to build a user community," said Gould, a Naval Research Lab chemical engineer. "It's a very exciting time to be a DoD (Department of Defense) scientist or engineer because the design freedom that 3D printing provides is incredible and is really only limited by your imagination."  


DoN scientists and engineers joined Sailors and Marines to present 40 innovative projects they imagined, designed, and produced with additive manufacturing (also known as 3D Printing) technology.


"It was exciting to see how the other commands and warfare centers are utilizing additive manufacturing in innovative ways," said Boykin, Mobile Fabrication Lab manager at the Southeast Regional Maintenance Center which provides surface ship maintenance, modernization and technical expertise in support of the Fleet.


Boykin's team solves a myriad of maintenance problems by 3D printing components. For example, his Sailors reverse engineered and manufactured replacement electric motor cooling fans for a $1.39 per fan compared to the $375.00 open purchase price. The Mobile Fab Lab, developed in 2016, enables Sailors and civilian personnel to convert their innovative ideas into designs and rapid prototypes that could be certified for wider Fleet use.


"Additive Manufacturing is a potential game-changing technology for naval warfare," said the event's keynote speaker, Dr. John Burrow, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development, test and evaluation (DASN RDT&E). "It accelerates capability development and will increase our readiness by reducing obsolescence or long lead time issues. It also enables a new design space that allows for component or platform characteristics not possible through legacy manufacturing methods."


As Burrow and scores of attendees listened, the naval 3D-printing experts explained how they are applying the technology to solve problems while saving valuable time, money and resources.


"I was excited to see all the examples of how our workforce in the Department of the Navy is exploring and implementing this technology," said Burrow.  


Explosive charges, fuel cells, sonobuoys, shipboard antennas, customized propellers, sensors, and valves are among the examples that visitors examined. Meanwhile, exhibitors pointed out that 3D printing their items saves thousands of dollars as well as several weeks of production and delivery time in many cases.


"The event demonstrated how organizations throughout the Naval Research and Development Establishment, maintenance operations, and Marines and Sailors from multiple commands use additive manufacturing to produce innovative items that enhance warfighting capabilities and increase readiness," said Ben Bouffard, additive manufacturing lead for DASN RDT&E. "We showcased many different types of applications, from early research to fielded components. It was a fantastic forum for subject matter experts to share lessons learned and develop future collaboration opportunities."


Print-a-Thon attendees saw it for themselves - prototypes in the research stage and technological products deployed to warfighters - as the manufacturers described how various items were conceived, designed, and made.  


"The greatest benefit from the expo was the networking and connections I was able to make throughout the community," said Boykin. "It is my belief that through these connections and collaborations, additive manufacturing will benefit naval logistics and the warfighter sooner than expected."


The 3D printing experts represented 20 Navy and Marine Corps organizations, traveling from locales across the county to prove that the potential of government civilians, Sailors, and Marines to imagine and innovate is indeed unlimited.


"I am grateful for the opportunity provided by ONR (Office of Naval Research) to work on such cutting edge research that will help deliver the next generation of technology to the warfighter quickly and economically through rapid prototyping enabled by 3D printing," said Gould.


In addition to scientists, Sailors, and Marines, industrial workers are benefitting from the introduction of additive manufacturing at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard's operations. 


"Additive manufacturing has improved the development of innovative tooling, test equipment, fixtures, molds and training equipment, all uniquely designed to address a specific need or application," said Chris Van Valkenburgh, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard innovation manager. "It accelerated the bootstrapping of solutions that improve processes and assist the quality of productive work." 


The exposition - sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition and coordinated by Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division - conveyed the importance of additive manufacturing technology to senior Navy, Marine Corps, and Office of the Secretary of Defense leadership. It also provided additive manufacturing experts with a forum to develop future collaborations. 


All of the additively manufactured items demonstrated were produced to enhance warfighting capability or readiness and sustainment.  The projects enhancing warfighting capability featured an innovative use of 3D printing technology to provide increased lethality, light-weight components, items customized to mission or warfighter. Projects improving readiness or sustainment supported or resolved an existing readiness, sustainment, logistical, or supply problem.


"I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the additive manufacturing experts and senior leadership in person - after months of emails and phone calls - and learning more about additive manufacturing myself," said Carrie Gonzalez, Print-a-Thon lead coordinator. "The energy in the corridors was palpable. The exhibitors were enthusiastic about their products and visitors and leadership were excited to learn more about the importance of additive manufacturing technology."


Participating organizations included Naval Sea Systems Command, Naval Air Systems Command, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific, Naval Surface and Undersea Warfare Center divisions, Naval Research Laboratory, Marine Corps 2nd Maintenance Battalion, and organizations throughout the Naval Research and Development Establishment.


Selected submissions from the 3D Print-a-Thon will be on exhibit at the Navy League's 2017 Sea-Air-Space Exposition from April 3-5.