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NEWS | June 21, 2021

NSWCDD Dam Neck Activity Engineers Collaborate to Save Time, Money on 3-D Printed Arming Unit

By NSWC Dahlgren Division Dam Neck Activity Public Affairs

When a legacy Command Control Group (CCG) console for the Ship Self Defense System (SSDS) became obsolete last year, the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) Strategic and Computing Systems Division SSDS Hardware Design Team had to quickly shift gears to redesign a new CCG.

SSDS uses CCG in all of its platforms, whether aircraft carriers or amphibious assault ships, and although this was not a planned design, time was of the essence.

“The typical design process is lengthy for the government because we have to do the design, build the prototype, perform all the verification testing, finalize the design and then go to production,” said Dr. Dale Bloodgood, SSDS Computing Systems chief engineer. “Developing a contract for production can take up to 18 months, and just ordering parts for prototype development can take another three or four. Once you start stacking those things up, you end up with a long lead time.”

The team leveraged an existing cabinet design called the Common Display System to redesign the new CCG. The project also required them to add a new capability called an arming unit, which is a battery release for the weapon system. A small but necessary part of the CCG, the arming unit integrates centralized operating assemblies that enable—or inhibit—the release of ordnance from all weapons under SSDS control.

Any new design must be prototyped to ensure it meets functional requirements. The SSDS Hardware Design Team knew using metal fabrication for the arming unit prototype would not work with their schedule, so they gathered around a table in their office to come up with another plan.

“The process of cutting metal takes a long time because a contractor must take our design, cut the metal, put it together and then come back to us. There are always some design flaws in a prototype once the contractor puts the metal pieces together, and they have to report any issues back to the SSDS hardware engineers,” said Lauren Sencio, SSDS Hardware Design task planning lead. “So as a team we began throwing ideas around and we decided we would try 3-D printing.”

Collaboration is an important part of how warfare centers get the job done. Whether partnering with industry, academia or other government organizations, NSWCDD Dam Neck Activity (DNA) engineers do whatever it takes to deliver capability to the fleet. As the design team discovered, sometimes all it takes is a short walk down the hall.

The SSDS Hardware Design Team is located at NSWCDD’s DNA in Virginia Beach, Virginia. DNA is also home to the Fleet Integration and Readiness Engineering (FIRE) Lab.   

The FIRE Lab provides in-house rapid prototyping capability for DNA and fleet stakeholders in the Hampton Roads area. The lab is manned by more than 20 mechanical, electrical, material, computer and software engineers, as well as computer scientists. The additive manufacturing component of the FIRE Lab is equipped with a range of 3-D printers capable of printing with various plastics, stainless steel and copper. 

Working with the FIRE Lab’s additive manufacturing component, the SSDS Hardware Design Team was able to complete a job that would normally take 22 weeks in only two weeks. This means they will be able to deliver the arming unit to the software design agent well ahead of schedule. Additionally, rather than using metal fabrication, the team used a plastic material called polyactic acid—or PLA—which yielded an estimated $11,200 in cost savings.  

While flaws can still occur with 3-D printing, the time and cost savings are well worth it, Sencio said. In fact, after the first print, the design team discovered the front plate of the arming unit could not be secured because of cables contained inside the enclosure. Since they printed the unit in-house, they were able to quickly identify the issue, update the design using 3-D modeling and resubmit it for printing right away.

“Having additive manufacturing capability in-house is tremendous because we can get things into production and back out to our customers—our sponsors—much faster,” said Phil Stenstrum, program director for the FIRE Lab.

FIRE lab engineers have successfully supported several notable projects with local-area stakeholders in recent years, including producing a 3-D printed replica of a valve for pipefitters at Norfolk Naval Shipyard to use as a training tool so apprentice trainees would not have to use the actual valve, valued at $50,000, Stenstrum said. In 2017, FIRE Lab engineers designed and received a patent for a 3-D printed nozzle that rapidly inflates and deflates a boat used by Navy special operations.    

The ultimate goal of the FIRE Lab is to continue to expand the capability and make DNA a “makerspace” for other NSWCDD branches and divisions, the fleet and sailors in Hampton Roads.

“We have the requisite knowledge with all the machines and their different processes. We can work with other organizations, guide them based on their needs and show them how they can maximize 3-D printing capabilities,” Stenstrum said. “We’re just happy to help. That’s what we’re here for—to share that wealth and share the knowledge. That’s how everyone gets better at what they do.”