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Palm-Sized 3D-Printed Part Represents Leap Forward In Shipbuilding

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) conducts flight operations in the Atlantic Ocean on Sept. 18, 2018. US Navy photo.

A new drain strainer orifice installed on a USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) steam line fits in the palm of a hand, but its significance to future shipbuilding is enormous.

Created on a 3D printer by Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) Newport News Shipbuilding, the relatively small part is designed to maintain steam pressure when removing condensation from a line by preventing steam from escaping. However, the process to manufacture this part is a leap in shipbuilding likened by engineers to the 1930s and 1940s, when modern welding processes quickly replaced rivets in joining steel plates on ship hulls.

“This is a watershed moment in our digital transformation, as well as a significant step forward in naval and marine engineering,” Charles Southall, the vice president of engineering and design at Newport News Shipbuilding, said in a statement. “We are committed to partnering with the Navy to ensure that collectively, we are investing in every opportunity to improve and advance the way we design and build great ships for the Navy.”

Newport News Shipbuilding, which builds the U.S. Navy’s nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines, is optimistic about the future of 3D printing. If 3D-printed parts can pass Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) standards, the hope is using the process, also called additive manufacturing, will both speed up the time to complete orders and cut down on production costs, HII officials told USNI News.

The idea of using 3D printing to manufacture metal parts came from John Ralls, a senior engineer at Newport News Shipbuilding, Southall said in a video posted to the HII website. Ralls started exploring 3D printing for shipbuilding about six years ago, he said in the video.

An additive manufacturing machine at Huntington Ingalls Industries shipyard in Newport News, Va. HII Photo

“If you asked me ten years ago, would I be working on taking powderized metal and lasers to make a part in three-dimensional shapes, I don’t think I could have envisioned that at all,” Ralls said.

HII describes the 3D printing process approved by NAVSEA as “a highly digitized process that deposits metal powder, layer by layer, to create three-dimensional marine alloy parts that potentially replace castings or other fabricated parts, such as valves, housings, and brackets.”

The Navy also hopes 3D-printed parts will prove to be a way to supply the fleet quicker, cheaper and more efficiently. The particular drain strainer orifice installed on Truman will be monitored for a year to evaluate how well the part performs in a real-world working environment, according to a NAVSEA statement.

Drain strainer orifice created by a 3D printer at Huntington Ingalls Industries Newport News Shipbuilding. Huntington Ingalls Industries photo.

“This install marks a significant advancement in the Navy’s ability to make parts on demand and combine NAVSEA’s strategic goal of on-time delivery of ships and submarines while maintaining a culture of affordability,” Rear Adm. Lorin Selby, the NAVSEA Chief Engineer and Deputy Commander for Ship Design, Integration, and Naval Engineering, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Navy in the process of understanding how to safely apply additive manufacturing technologies in more ways, including as part of the supply chain for aircraft carriers at sea.

“Specifications will establish a path for NAVSEA and industry to follow when designing, manufacturing and installing AM (additive manufacturing) components shipboard and will streamline the approval process,” Justin Rettaliata, the Technical Warrant Holder for Additive Manufacturing with NAVSEA, said in a statement.

Two recent additive manufacturing efforts led the former in-service carrier program manager at the Program Executive Office for Carriers to decide the Navy should install a 3D printing lab aboard USS George Washington (CVN-73) during its ongoing mid-life refueling and complex overhaul.

Capt. John Markowicz, who until this summer served as the in-service carrier program manager, told USNI News in a May interview that the Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division had worked to understand how a 3D printer would operate at sea, on a structure constantly in motion.

Meanwhile, the chief engineer aboard USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) was already experimenting with how to use 3D printing as a way to shorten the supply chain for the ship’s industrial maintenance, Markowicz said.

In August, Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Chung-Hoon (DDG-93) needed to replace a bolt from a hangar bay door roller assembly. Cmdr. Kenneth Holland, the chief engineer aboard Stennis, offered to make a replacement bolt for Chung-Hoon, which was part of the Stennis Carrier Strike Group.

“The printers are being used right now to resolve issues while they’re small problems,” Holland said in a statement released shortly after the event. “It’s used to help manufacture parts that you can generally only get if you buy the higher assembly.”

Holland and his team aboard Stennis have made replacement knobs for communications gear and other small components, according to the Navy. Currently, small manufacturing jobs are the most likely jobs 3D printing can accomplish at sea, Markowicz said during his May interview with USNI News.

More work has to be done for the Navy to understand what standards required for different kinds of parts and the limitations of 3D printing. When it comes to parts for critical systems, Markowicz said shipboard labs might never be approved to create such items as parts of steam propulsion systems. A shipboard facility doesn’t have the means to test and certify parts like a shipyard facility.

However, Markowicz said a shipboard lab could print something like a pump shaft with plastic or Teflon first, test fit it on the ship, and then re-print the piece with metal for actual use on the ship

  • Curtis Conway

    This is where the manufacturing standards and flag notes in the PL (parts list) of the configuration drawings come in:

    “A shipboard facility doesn’t have the means to test and certify parts like a shipyard facility.”

    Processes can be qualified too, given the certified materials used. I can easily forsee a day when most every ship underway will have a 3D printer for small parts fabrication. The hard part will be to have the right raw materials in sufficient quantities to manufacture that part.

    • DaSaint

      Completely agree! This is Star Trek in reality!

      • Curtis Conway

        Well . . . we have a few steps to go before we start turning energy into matter, but this is a step in the right direction. The Marines (under NAVAIR supervision) has already made 3D printed parts for the V-22 Osprey that have been flight rated.

        • vetww2

          Could you, please specify/identify them?

          • Curtis Conway

            Is this an aptitude test, or Discovery?

          • vetww2


          • Curtis Conway

            It is one thing to take something that already exist in homogeneous powder form and add some energy to create a new construct. It is entirely a different thing to take pure energy, and CREATE atoms of substance(s), and create a new construct simple or complex. If you ever studied the drawings of the proposed Starship Enterprise cross section, the vast majority of the saucer section is the energy management system, pattern buffers, recenquencers, and matrix generators to support the transporter, holodecks, and replicators on all decks.

            So . . . you see, your last answer is exactly correct . . . SILLY.

            When we consider . . . taking atoms apart = Atomic Bombs, and
            putting atoms together = Hydrogen Bombs . . . the engineering (energy management) gets a bit complex.

            Cracking this nut will open the door for so many things, and it will probably start with Directed Energy Weapons development.

          • vetww2

            AGREE in part. I have many times referred to the Navy’s old directed energy office. The physics of direct energy to matter is far beyond current concepts of physics. Nothing is impossible, but that is unlikely
            Both fission and fusion depend on the simple fact that if you divide some elements (like U-235) into simpler elemsnts, (fission) you have some energy of retention released (BOOM). in the other case when you assemble some elements ((like H2) into a larger element (fusion) you have some energy left over (BOOM).

            Makig particular matter out of energy requires controls quite beyond any physics that I am aware of. Does anybody know of such?

          • Curtis Conway

            Energy to matter is one thing. Energy directed in constant stream, or packets of photonic energy is NOT like making matter from energy. They could obviously use the same power source. Some of the equipment that manages and messages the matter in energy-to-matter conversion may be used in the weapon systems, but it is a different set of equipment and energy stream. To make a directed energy weapon would be infinitely easier to making simple or complex matter from pure energy. If one defeated the directed energy equation, then a path to the creation of matter would partially be solved. At some point someone is going to figure out how to make consolidated packets of photonic energy at varying levels, and point it . . . ride it one a beam . . . cut it loose in a specific direction (whatever), and start the whole movement in that direction.

            Youngers trained in and understanding Grand Unified Theory, a model in particle physics in which, at high energy, the three gauge interactions of the Standard Model which define the electromagnetic, weak, and strong interactions, or forces, are merged into one single force, will figure this out.

          • vetww2

            The man that knows the most about this is the former P.M. of the Navy’s Directed Energy Program. If you can locate him, I think that you can get a much better grasp of the problem than I can provide.

          • Secundius

            Are you talking about Dr. Charles H. Townes…

          • vetww2

            No Captain (Dr.) Al Skolnik USN(retd)

          • vetww2

            I have my own 3D printer, (ARIEL A8) but only for plastic parts. I have never heard of any equipment that could produce high strength or high precision metal parts. Closest that i know of is
            +or- .010 inches.

    • Ctrot

      It may become possible to break down the broken part into a “powder” form so that it becomes the raw material for the 3D printer to use in creating the replacement.

    • What do you figure happens with the COSAL when all you need is data and the raw material? You’d always have a spare on the shelf – also applies to CNC as well as additive.

    • Secundius

      Correct me if I’m wrong? But don’t Aircraft Carrier’s have Machine Shops in place to do that very thing! Fabricating Spare Parts the Old Fashion Way, using Machine Lathes! I suspect “Their” also Tested there too, before being used as parts replacements on Planes…

      • Curtis Conway

        Back in the day of aluminum airplanes and Molders Mates and Machinist it was. Now less so with more synthetic materials and certified standard modules that get to be replaced only. Swap-tronics is what we used to call it. Trouble shooting skills are precious and damn slim in the fleet anymore.

        • Secundius

          On the USS Harry S. Truman, as of 22 December 2015.

          ( https : // youtu . be / Vv 3 INSQ cb 9 Y )

          For obvious reasons! (i.e. USNI News Fo-Police)…

          • Curtis Conway

            Great piece, and this capability will grow.

          • Secundius

            Similar Systems being used on USS “Essex” and USNS “Sacagawea”, and at least one other ship which I can’t remember the name of…

          • vetww2

            My 3d printer cost me $260, Now you can get an upgraded model for about $180, It is a fast moving development. Fortunately mine is sufficient for my meager plastic needs

      • vetww2

        Correct. This is, presently, the ONLY way to reproduce high strength parts.

  • Pete Novick

    In the 1200# Navy, this is what we referred to as a steam trap. It has no moving parts. So why do they fail?

    Your answer here: _____________________

    • vetww2

      Heat, Vibration, Cyclic temperatures, manufacturing fauts, and mounting loads all contribute to failure of static parts

      • PolicyWonk

        Incorrect installation of said part(s), via over/under torquing of fasteners, improper sealants and gaskets, poor quality materials (though, this last one could perhaps be seen as a derivative of a manufacturing fault), and mismatched metals (ex: aluminum and steel), can all lead to failures.

        The original part is one thing: how that part is installed, where its installed, etc., are all parts of the puzzle.

        • vetww2

          THANKS. My info is only from the “Powdered Metals” magazineI.
          I have not heard of any printed steel parts,L Please spevify, if you know, I hope they have.

          • Ctrot

            I can’t insert a link here so use your favorite search engine on the phrase: Large titanium wing spar made by Additive Manufacturing

          • vetww2


          • vetww2

            Checked out your Ti wing spar story. It is false.

          • Ctrot


          • Secundius

            Depend on the Application! Lockheed-Martin/Sikorsky CH-53E/K and Boeing CH-47’s use Titanium Wing Spares as Central Load Bearing Beams for their respective Main Helicopter Blades. Carbon Fiber makes up the Rotor Blade Wing itself with the Titanium Spare sandwiched inside the Carbon Fiber Blades. I suspect the V-22 Ospreys Proprotors are the same…


      Erosion or calcification?

    • CVN_123

      Have replaced hundreds of them.
      #1 – Sailor over torques the nut on the top and snaps off the stud
      #2 – orifice inside get eaten away by steam no longer operable.
      #3 – some dope installed it backwards (has a flow arrow on the side, use it)
      There are no mismatched metals it is all steel!

    • ANSWER – some supply chain nimrod bought counterfeit parts from China.

  • vetww2

    Use of 3D printed parts for Non-stressed items is brilliant. However my latest copy of “Powdered Metals” makes no claim for the fabrication of structural high strength parts.

  • Ed L

    Carriers are such prime targets on the top of the heap with the logistic fleet

  • Hugh

    Combine 3D Printing with heat treating, peening, laser cladding, etc……..

  • RobM1981

    Just don’t run out of those little ink cartridges. My kids devour those things. We always seem to be out of blue…

    Don’t get stuck out in the middle of the ocean because you’re out of blue ink, OK?


  • Secundius

    LHD-2, USS “Essex” was the first US Naval Vessel to receive a German made StrataSys uPrint SE Plus 3D “Sintering” Laser Metal Printer in 10 April 2014, after a “Steering Mishap” on 18 September 2012 and CVN-75, USS “Harry S. Truman” in 2019″. Patuxent River NAS installed one around May 2016, and T-AKE-2, USNS “Sacagawea” in 2 April 2018. Huntington-Ingalls Industries Newport News Shipbuilding purchased a ProX DMP 320 3D Metal Printer in 11 May 2018…

  • So when do they update the “Pattern Maker” and “Molder” ratings? Can we bring back “Powder Monkey” for powdered metals?