The US Navy has teamed up with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to develop and 3D print a proof-of-concept submersible. The collaborative team was set the challenge to design, print and assemble the vehicle in just 4 weeks and they have achieved just that. The team from the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) and Carderock Division's Disruptive Technology Laboratory (DTL) successfully developed the submersible. It has been named the ‘Optionally Manned Technology Demonstrator’ and is based on an existing submersible currently in use by Navy seals.
The demonstrator was printed in a huge industrial 3D printer called Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM). The printer created six carbon fiber sections, which were then assembled into the 30-foot long vehicle. It is the Navy’s largest 3D printed piece of equipment.
[Image Source: NAVY]
Submersible designed and printed in just four weeks
The experimental team was charged with just 4 weeks to get the project happening. They used the first week to design the submersible and printing began in week two. The Department of Energy reports that a similar vessel would take 5 months to produce and cost about $800,000. The 3D printed version took less than a month and was about 90 percent cheaper.
[Image Source: U.S. Department of Energy]
The success of the test vessel is a boon for the military. Being able to rapidly design and develop equipment and vehicles sets up a huge advantage in times of critical conflict. Weapons or vehicles can be adjusted in response to changing conditions.
The ‘Optionally Manned Technology Demonstrator’ is just that, a demonstration of the possibility of this type of process. It won’t hit the water and be used as a functioning vessel. However, it does signify a new method of manufacturing that frees up time and money.
The demonstrator and its team were awarded the NAVSEA Commander's Award for innovation and are already planning the next iteration of the sub. The new demonstrator will be watertight and will be subjected to physical testing at Carderock. The elite testing facility mimics the most challenging conditions that ships and submarines could encounter in the open ocean. Fleet capable prototypes of the vessel could be integrated into the Navy as early as 2019.
Submersible joins long list of BAAM-printed projects
The BAAM printer can 3D print large-scale products up to 10 times larger than currently producible on other machines. It also works at speeds 200 to 500 times faster than any existing additive machine. The printer has created some astounding projects including a life-size car, and a 3D printed replica of the Orion Spacecraft.
The US navy isn’t the only military organization to take advantage of 3D printing. The marine corps has successfully developed a 3d printed drone. The Air Force from South Africa, Brazi, and Israel also have technologies and solutions utilizing the fast and affordable development tool.