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Research and Development = A More Innovative Shipyard

By Kristi Britt, Norfolk Naval Shipyard Public Affairs Specialist | Oct. 18, 2019


America’s Shipyard aims for a more innovative workforce in part through the Research & Development (R&D) of Additive Manufacturing (AM) within the Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) Technology and Innovation Laboratory (T&I Lab).

“Innovation is another word for improving our products and processes to best fit with our modernizing workforce,” said AM Subcommittee Lead Jessica Roberts. “In order to best explore the new technologies we have access to, it’s important to put forward the research and explore ideas of what AM is best suited for here at the yard. We test the limits of 3D printing technologies and build on ideas from our workforce within the Lab. And once we have a firm grasp on what the technology is capable of, we put it into the hands of the employees so we can continue to research the latest technologies available to us.”

The NNSY T&I Lab, located in Bldg. 31, is a center for developing new advances in AM and other innovative technologies at the forefront of maintenance capabilities at NNSY, and is one of many 3D printing labs across the shipyard. Each AM lab serves a different purpose, from exploring ideas to developing prototypes and mock-ups to designing new tools. For the T&I Lab’s R&D team, they utilize their printers – both desktop printers and a Fortus 450mc industrial printer – in collaboration with members of the AM community across the yard to determine what can be done with the printers on the waterfront as well as exploring advances in AM materials, such as carbon fiber, resin, conductive filament, and metal.

“We’ve been working with members of our workforce, as well as folks from Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), the other public shipyards, and other Warfare Centers to share ideas and really explore what these printers are capable of from a naval standpoint,” said Roberts. “We have a mission to service the fleet and being able to produce parts that could be installed onboard our vessels and in the shops would be a huge achievement. But to get to that point, we have to ensure we understand the technology and what it can do. That’s our biggest focus.”

“In our research efforts and through the REAL Ideas program, we’ve been able to tackle jobs for planning purposes, including printing out a small module of the dry dock.” said Robert Ridgway, REAL Ideas Project Manager for the NNSY T&I Lab. “With the module, we’re able to work with key players, such as supervisors as well as firefighters to see the dry dock’s current state and where we plan to improve the dry dock as a whole. We’re also looking at printing out a model of the waterfront and the entire shipyard as part of the Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Plan, something that can be used by all parties in the planning for the modernization of America’s Shipyard.”

“These planning projects not only utilize our 3D printers but also other innovative technologies we have here at the yard. For example, we use our laser scanning technology to capture the scans of the dry dock and build the point cloud. Then we take those scans to develop the 3D print of the dry dock. It’s a process that relies on cooperation and communication, something we strive for with our team,” said Roberts. “In the NNSY T&I Lab, we want to build these communication avenues across the shipyard and beyond our gates. Being able to break down barriers and bring everyone together is huge. The more we share ideas with one another, the better we can understand what tools are out there for our use.”

A key part of the lab’s R&D team is also bringing in folks from across the shipyard to access the technologies and learn how to utilize the equipment and bring their ideas to the forefront. This gives any shipyard worker interested in learning these technologies the opportunity to learn a new skill, and take those skills back to foster innovation within their home shops and codes.

Shop 57 Apprentice Kristopher McKenzie recently came into the lab to help with 3D modeling, a skill he only learned a few weeks ago when he joined the team’s efforts.

“I was able to train with the team here and gain a new skillset in the process, something I could use to help bring ideas of how to innovate the shipyard to life,” said McKenzie. “With the skills I’ve learned, I’ve been testing an idea for a cap for bolts so that we can eliminate abrasions for our workforce should they come in contact with the bolts on the job. Being able to collaborate like this opens up new channels of communication across the shipyard. In the short time I’ve been here I’ve been able to speak to folks and work together on ways we can utilize this technology.”

A printer capable of printing metal will soon make its way into the lab, a new type of AM technology for the team to explore. “It’s a new set of processes and a new material for us to research and see what it’s capable of. We can’t wait for this new technology to be utilized across the shipyard and used to service the fleet.”