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US Navy and ORNL use BAAM to build an entire 3D printed submarine hull

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Planesautomobiles, and…submarines? Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) just made a big splash with its latest application of 3D printing. Through a partnership with the Navy’s Disruptive Technology Lab and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), the team at ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) created the military’s first 3D printed submarine hull.

The Optionally Manned Technology Demonstrator is inspired by the submersible SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV). SDVs are typically used to transport United States Navy SEALs and their equipment to special operations missions. In the future, these vehicles will need to be manufactured faster and incorporate new designs to support each Navy mission.

Building a 3D printed submarine

The team needed to create a 30-foot proof-of-concept hull out of carbon fiber composite material. With just four weeks to get the job done, the Navy didn’t hesitate to get their feet wet—they dove right into learning about Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM). The new technology deep-dive at the MDF lasted about a week. By week two they were printing their design. The rapid turnaround and round-the-clock printing of BAAM allowed the team to assemble the six pieces of the hull during the third week.

The cost of a traditional SDV hull ranges from $600,000 to $800,000 and typically takes 3-5 months to manufacture. Using BAAM reduced hull production costs by 90% and shortened production time to a matter of days—giving the Navy the opportunity to create “on demand” vehicles while also saving time, money, and energy.

Last week, the Navy team received the prestigious NAVSEA Commanders Award for Innovation, but they aren’t stopping yet. They’re taking the plunge on the next phase of the project: creating a second, water-tight version of the hull that will be tested in the wave pool at Carderock—an elite testing facility that mimics the most compromising conditions that ships and submarines could encounter in the open ocean. Fleet-capable prototypes could be introduced as early as 2019.

ORNL and the Navy saw this is as an opportunity to bring together their resources and expertise in a partnership with the potential to revolutionize manufacturing in the defense sector. Not only can the Navy find new ways to reduce traditional costs associated with manufacturing, but the lessons learned from this project will help ORNL further explore 3D printing applications in the boating industry, aerospace, buildings, and anything that requires a large, resilient structure. Partnerships like these help drive economic growth and reinforce our national security.

Partners in the project included Oak Ridge National Laboratory; Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division’s Disruptive Technology Laboratory; Picatinny Arsenal; Navy Special Warfare, Office of Naval Research; Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; Naval Air Systems Command; the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory; Naval Surface Warfare Centers from Crane, Panama City, and Philadelphia; Naval Undersea Warfare Center Newport; and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based VoxelMatters. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites and, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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