The 3D printing sector is disrupting multiple industries like never before. Although it currently occupies less than 1% of the global manufacturing industry, it is all set to take production workflows to a whole new level. In 2019, the value of the global additive manufacturing industry surpassed its double-digit target for the first time in 40 years, reaching $10.4 billion. The revenues from 3D printing footwear contributed to about 0.3% of the total footwear revenue in 2019, and in orthopedics, additive manufacturing was valued at $691 million in 2018. Further, 3D printing in healthcare services, products, and other materials like software and hardware is currently valued at $1.25 billion.

Regenerative medicines, oil, and gas, entertainment, construction, fashion, defense, and military, every industry is being impacted by additive manufacturing. The 3D printing revenues in the oil and gas industry are expected to reach about $450 million by the next year. Besides the large-scale production of gas turbine blends and increased digitization, 3D printed prototypes of various components are lowering development time and costs. The technology is also being used extensively in manufacturing equipment components.

In the fashion industry, this advanced technology is being used to take creative freedom to all-new levels. 3D printed garments are storming the industry with improved aesthetics and unmatched innovation. If the industry tends to expand in this manner, sustainable fashion will reach new heights in recent years. The footwear sector is directly using additive manufacturing for prototyping and production. Brands like Adidas are embracing the disruptive changes to get an edge over competitors. As technology offers incredible customization benefits, the fashion industry is trying to make the most of it.

There’s little doubt that additive manufacturing is being considered by the military and defense sector to reduce supply chain expenses and improve production timings. Digital files are replacing physical design components, and customizing equipment has become the latest trend. Enhanced flexibility and efficiency of military equipment are on everyone’s mind to improve battlefield performance, which is possible through additive manufacturing.

Toys, jewelry, construction, and education are some other sectors trying to achieve the manifold benefits of 3D printing. Not to forget, the entertainment industry is also utilizing the technology in costume designing, 3D printed props, and makeup.

One of the popular sectors redefining its designing, prototyping, and manufacturing activities through this futuristic technology is Maritime. In this post, we are going to discuss the latest developments, recent and future trends in this sector. But first of all, you need to understand the challenges that the navy face and how additive manufacturing can help overcome the same.

US Navy and 3D printing – The connection

The technology has revolutionized the defense sector, especially in the navy by reducing design complexities, production timing, and costs. In 2018, $2.6 million was invested by the US Office of Naval Research in metal additive manufacturing to produce high-quality metal components in a shorter time frame. At present, both the sailors and mariners are developing critical components using 3D printing technology to reduce overhead costs and save production time.

According to the industry leaders, technology has changed the way to think and perceive objects, as well as develop business strategies by ushering in a new phase of manufacturing. By enhancing technical potential and improving operations, the future of additive manufacturing in the navy is brighter like never before. Large-scale adoption of 3D printers by navy ships is one such trend ding big these days. It is also helping the mariners develop obsolete parts of components that are not easy to find, taking operational efficiency to an all-new level.

In 2019, the US navy came up with its first-ever 3D printed submarine hull on the Big Area Additive Manufacturing machine. It is the same machine that created the first 3D printed car and ORNL’s 3D printed Shelby Cobra.

With the increase in demand for maritime surveillance, the navies are planning to incorporate the technology in building advanced submersibles, sensors, and additional components. With time, more exploding inventions will make their way into the US navy, thus strengthening the bond between additive manufacturing and the military sector.

Benefits of 3D printing in the US Navy

The navy ships face numerous logistics challenges, especially when they are out in the sea. In case of equipment breakdown, it may take days or even weeks to get the components on board, as the ship may be miles away from the nearest port. The naval missions are mostly covert operations, and getting help risk blowing the cover itself. There is no way to manufacture those components on board in the absence of traditional machinery that also takes up a lot of space and energy. Hence, most US navy ships are onboarding 3D printers to help in such situations.

With the 3D printers on board, the navy ships can improve the flexibility of their missions. From small fixes to critical repairs, the advanced printers go the extra mile to increase the chances of mission success. The ships are also integrating 3D printing drones to keep an eye out for potential damages and take necessary steps beforehand.

Besides, additive manufacturing can also reduce the costs of production of refractory components for missiles and other critical weapons on board and the land. For example, manufacturing metal components of the propulsion systems can be quite expensive and labor-intensive through traditional productions. 3D printing technology can guarantee structural integrity, efficiency, and reliability without exceeding the budget. It can help reduce the complexities of the process and lead times of production while the ship is out in the sea.

To streamline the process further, the Marine Corps Systems Command has set up an advanced Manufacturing Operations Cell that offers 24/7 help for navy ships using additive manufacturing technologies. The main function of the cell is to offer suggestions and assistance to the marines (as well as civilians) and help find components for the functional efficiency of their systems.

No wonder the defense sector is using futuristic technology to speed up operations and meet emergencies!

The challenges of 3D printing in the navy

However, the incorporation of additive manufacturing in the US navy does not come without any challenge. Although the military is adopting the technology at a super-fast pace, they should be aware of these challenges to make the future hassle-free. One of them is the difficulty in certifying 3D printed critical components to ensure their safety and efficiency. Although the proposals enforce the necessity of safety standards through authentic certification processes, it can be difficult to comply at times. More funding will be required in the future to develop proper certification processes for these components and create a network of all 3D files digitally.

Another challenge being faced by the mariners is the adaption of 3D printers in changing maritime environments. Ship movements, moisture, and other factors may affect additive manufacturing and impact the quality of end products. Last but not least, proper quality-testing the 3D printed equipment in appropriate conditions should precede their usage. It is not easy to do the same onboard a ship. Researchers are trying to find solutions to these challenges. After overcoming the same, 3D printing will mark a new dawn in the maritime industry.

Some FAQs on additive manufacturing in the US navy

Q.1: Will 3D printing reduce operational costs in the navy?

Yes, they can. With the adoption of metal 3D printing technologies, the costs of labor will be reduced to a minimum, and improvement in lead times will lower operational costs. Besides, the ships will become more self-sufficient and covert-friendly, which will inevitably increase the chances of mission success.

Q.2: Is customization possible with additive manufacturing?

The technology offers creative and innovative design freedom like nothing else. By printing bespoke equipment and critical components, additive manufacturing will further improve mission flexibility.

Q.3: How additive manufacturing is a new-age technology?

It helps break manufacturing conventions by improving digitization. No longer do you have to store and preserve physical components for future references. You can store them in digital formats to be printed later with/without improvisations.

Q.4: Are the 3D printed components structurally and functionally efficient?

At present, most mariners are using the technology to develop less-critical components or parts of machinery to prevent quality-related issues. Once proper certification and quality-assurance processes are developed, advanced components and critical equipment will be produced using the technology, which will then ensure maximum structural and functional efficiency.

How Additive Accelerator can help

The team at Additive Accelerator possesses all the know-how of 3D printing in the global military and defense, manufacturing, entertainment, automobiles, as well as other sectors to provide you with a comprehensive idea of the latest developments and trends. You can turn to them regarding any information about additive manufacturing to decide if the technology is the right fit for your business. We will not only help resolve your queries but also offer valuable insight into the large-scale adoption of 3D printing by various industries. We can even go the extra mile to tailor additive manufacturing solutions for your business based on the industry you serve. Get in touch to discuss appropriate measures and develop bespoke 3D printing strategies for your business.