SURFLANT Empowers Deckplate Leaders at 3D Printing Symposium

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Story Number: NNS140808-15Release Date: 8/8/2014 2:46:00 PM

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Eric Brown, Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet Public Affairs

NORFOLK (NNS) -- Commander, Naval Surface Force Atlantic (CNSL) hosted its first 3D printing symposium directed at waterfront warfighters Aug. 6 at Naval Station Norfolk.

Among those warfighters was Machinery Repairmen 1st Class Shane Chapman, who attended the four-hour symposium with two engineering shipmates from amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), to learn about this revolutionary technology and its vast applications to the fleet.

"I didn't know much about the process and capabilities of 3D printing before I got here and I'm very impressed by what it can do," Chapman said. "It can be very cost-effective for creating a one-off part, or something that isn't manufactured anymore. It would require a lot less time printing a part, instead of machining it."

CNSL held this symposium to proactively reinforce command priorities of improving surface warrior tactical and technical competence, delivering combat-ready warships and synchronizing lines of effort.

"At its very core, this technology further enhances the leadership opportunities of our Sailors," noted symposium coordinator Lt. Matthew Hipple, a CNSL action officer.

"For challenges in your engineering plant, at your console, or on the bridge - additive manufacturing could one day allow Sailors to create their own novel solutions, or overcome pauses from logistical delays," he continued. "That's ownership, and an important part of cultivating new generations of leaders and experts."

About a dozen Sailors and civilians attended the symposium on 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, rapid prototyping and direct digital manufacturing.

3D printing is the conceptual opposite of subtractive manufacturing, a process by which material is removed (often by lathing, cutting, chipping or grinding) to create a final product. 3D printing constructs three-dimensional objects by adding layers of material (usually plastic or metal) and shapes can be created not otherwise possible through traditional manufacturing techniques.

There are six industrial methods for 3D printing; the Navy favors one called "material extrusion," in which material - often thermoplastic - is melted and extruded onto a build platform.

The Navy has been exploring and implementing this technology for more than 20 years, and its applications have been embraced by communities as diverse as surface, aviation, submarines, special warfare and medicine. On Nov. 13, 2013, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert designated OPNAV N4 (Material Readiness and Logistics) as the Navy lead for additive manufacturing technology. Additionally, the CNO's Rapid Innovation Cell project "Print the Fleet" has been stood up to introduce Sailors to 3D printing.

"'Print the Fleet' was created to push junior deckplate leadership - the guys who are doing the technical work, the maintainers who are encountering the day-to-day problems to harness 3D printing technology for their uses," Hipple explained. "It's a great opportunity for them, not to just decrease their man-hours spent working on equipment, but also to increase the amount of leadership and input they have into this new technology."

During the symposium, Chapman and others in attendance learned that 3D printing has the capability to bring parts to the warfighter quickly and cheaply. By printing parts on nearby military installations or eventually, on ships at sea, inventory can be reduced and shipping costs can be nearly eliminated for many items. Within days or hours of identifying a needed part, a model can be designed and uploaded to a database for printing, allowing for a more rapid response to warfighters' needs.

This was good news for Kearsarge engineers, enthusiastic to brief their chain of command about the ease with which 3D printing could manufacture common items, including oil reservoir caps and deck drain covers.

"We have manufactured these ourselves, but if there's a faster process, that would obviously be ideal," Chapman said. "These are things that we encounter very often."

Hipple hopes that enthusiasm spreads to the other 70-plus CNSL ships.

"This is about helping Sailors overcome acquisition problems," he pointed out. "And it's about using taxpayers' dollars well. 3D printing is a new process that can streamline our logistics and give the Sailor new problem-solving tools.

"You and I have been given these resources by the American people and it is our job to use them wisely; 3D printing looks like it's going to be one way to do so. We're investigating if this can give the Navy, our Sailors, and the people the best bang for our buck."

Another CNSL 3D printing symposium will be held Aug. 20 from 1 - 3:30 p.m. at Naval Station Norfolk's Building C-9 (1731 Gilbert St.), on the second floor, in conference room 2. Registration is not required. Inquiries can be addressed to:

For more news from Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, visit

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