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NEWS | Oct. 23, 2018

Team designs 3D-printed device to reduce time, cost, increase safety

By Max Maxfield, PSNS & IMF Public Affairs


The Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility’s Strategic Framework encourages employees at all levels to embrace innovation in support of the command’s mission to deliver warships back to the fleet on-time, every time.

To that end, a team of folks including Ron Jackson, an equipment expert for the shipfitting, sheet metal and pipefitting shops; Logan Crow, Jeff Pugh and Alissa Riedel with the pipefitting shop; and Bob Hewitt, a 3D-printing expert with the shipfitting and sheet metal shops loft put their collective minds together to figure out how to save time and cost when fabricating pipe hangers and make the process safer.

Pipe hangers are comprised of two strips of metal that look like half-moons with tabs, which are bolted together around a pipe to hold it firmly and in a precise place, aboard a ship.

According to Sam Pruiett, assistant product line manager with the Component Repair & Fabrication Product Line and the shipfitting, sheet metal and pipefitting shops, the team designed a punch template for the pipe shop’s iron worker machine that allows workers to punch bolt holes in pipe hangars precisely, every time, while keeping their fingers away from the punch. They performed a laser scan on the table to get exact dimensions to create a 3D-printed product that snaps into place on the machine

A 3D printer in the shipfitting and sheet metal shops was used to print the device, which has been a time and money-saver.

The old process

Workers previously used a tape measure, hammer and center punch to create a mark on the pieces of metal that would be used to estimate where the iron worker machine’s punch needed to be lined up, Pruiett said.

“The old way took about three to five minutes to lay out each pipe hanger piece and then align it with the punch, which did not always punch the hole exactly where it was needed,” Pruiett explained. “It was rather difficult to always exactly line up the part to punch the holes, causing maybe one in 10 to be unusable.”

Pruiett said mechanics using the new 3D-printed template, or fixture as some refer to it, can complete the same task in less than a minute, with the holes being punched exactly where they should be.

Pipefitter Superintendent Brent Pickard said the device makes the process safer.

“(Before), employees would have to use finesse to jog the punch into position using a foot pedal while holding the clamp with their hands to align the hanger clamp. This increased the chances of pinching the fingers of our employees,” explained Pickard.

Expanding the use

While they’ve only printed a template for use on the iron worker machine in the pipefitting shop, the same process of scanning a machine and 3D printing a guide will likely be expanded to the shipfitting and sheet metal shops, as they have iron worker machines used for similar work. The sheet metal shop makes light weight pipe hangers, the pipefitting shop makes larger pipe hangers, while the shipfitting shop makes very large pipe hangers.

“Pickard said he is excited to share the information with the other shipyards,” said Pruiett. “He actually did a hands-on test of the equipment to see how it all worked, and was very pleased with the results.”

Jackson and Pruiett have been working with other maintenance activities to try to get them all to purchase and use the same machines for certain types of work. Not only would this ensure employees who travel to other commands to support various missions and availabilities would not need to re-learn how to do something on a machine they’ve never used before, it would allow the organizations to share the 3D files for devices like this one, which would allow all the activities to save time and money.

Pruiett said custom designing tools and gadgets is becoming more popular at PSNS & IMF.

“If the printer wasn’t so popular for these improvement items, we could actually have scanned the table, written the program and printed it all within a couple of days,” Pruiett said. “However this took several months to do as we have done several high priority jobs.”

Pruiett said he sees a bright future for innovation at PSNS & IMF.

“We live in technologically exciting times, and with additive manufacturing and laser scanning, I would hope that we will never have to say, ‘I’m sorry we can’t do this job here,’” he said.