Navy Offers 3D Printing, Technical Expertise to National COVID-19 Response

April 2, 2020 12:26 PM
Jose Ruiz, a mechanical engineer at Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Keyport, works on parts for face shield prototypes on March 25, 2020. NUWC Keyport is currently exploring ways to use its additive manufacturing capabilities to help the Washington state medical community, including Naval Hospital Bremerton, with personal protective equipment during the coronavirus pandemic. US Navy photo.

The Navy has begun contributing to the broader fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, with several centers using additive manufacturing capabilities to print protective gear for frontline workers at community hospitals.

These efforts come after weeks of planning at the Navy and Defense Department level to coordinate what assets the services have that could be useful, and to map out a process for community requests for assistance to be paired with the appropriate military assets, the Navy’s top acquisition official told reporters this week.

Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition James Geurts said in a Wednesday media roundtable that the Navy is “ensuring we’re leveraging the full capacity of the Department of the Navy’s technical and acquisition capability to support the crisis. So we’ve had a team for weeks stood up that is working at both the local level as well as regional and national level, so that if we’ve got capabilities – there’s a number of [Office of Naval Research] technologies that we made available; if there are 3D printing capacity, we have networked together and have all of the Navy and Marine Corps 3D printing capability networked, connected and available; we are providing acquisition expertise directly working with FEMA – and so we are ensuring that any of the assets we have available that we can free up to support this, we are doing that across the board here.”

He said that between printing projects at naval warfare centers to support their local communities, efforts by technical centers, and Navy staff support to the Joint Acquisition Task Force to process requests, there is “a lot of great work we’re doing to lend our hand anywhere we can to support the larger whole-of-government effort.”

In one example, Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Keyport in Washington State is using its additive manufacturing capabilities to create face shields for the local medical community, which was the first hotspot of the pandemic in the U.S.

Ross Wilhelm, principal technologist in NUWC Keyport’s Maintenance, Engineering and Industrial Operations Department, said in a news release that a team of engineers wanted to find a way to help out once the virus hit their community.

“Our Director of Engagement, Johannes Schonberg, reached out to the Naval Hospital (in Bremerton) and the Washington State Health Care Response Team to see what their critical needs were,” he said in the news release.
“At the same time, there’s been an absolute explosion of personal protective equipment (PPE) designs being shared on the internet, including among Keyport employees, voluntarily printing PPE at home, all of which helped to identify a good candidate PPE Keyport could manufacture.”

The team is testing the first batch of shields at Naval Hospital Bremerton while they determine what their printing capacity might be to support the surrounding area, too, and putting contractual measures in place to allow them to send the gear to civilian healthcare centers.

Another printing effort is supporting healthcare workers in Colorado.

“We are seeing regional requests by the medical communities for supplies like face shields. These requests are now being worked with the Joint Acquisition Task Force (JATF) for most efficient DoD response. The JIATF is the formal entry point for requests like this to DoD,” Navy spokesman Capt. Danny Hernandez told USNI News.
“An initial request from FEMA, which we received prior to standup of the JATF, was for 220 face masks for a hospital in Colorado. The request was sent to the Department of Navy’s Additive Manufacturing community to produce the face shields. These shipped out earlier this week.”

Outside of printing efforts, Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly told reporters yesterday that technical expertise is also being shared where possible.

“The Naval Research Laboratory is providing technical support in several areas, including fluid mechanics and biotechnology,” he said in a separate media briefing.

According to a March 31 memo from Geurts, “it is critical to leverage all technical and support capabilities within the Department of the Navy (DON) in support of the COVID-19 response.” The memo adds that it’s important for all participation to go through the JATF process, though, to ensure there’s no duplication of effort within the military or between military and industry sources, and to “track the cost of time, material, equipment and supplies” for proper reimbursement.

Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein is the former deputy editor for USNI News.

Get USNI News updates delivered to your inbox