NSWC Philadelphia Adapts Additive Manufacturing Technology

Photo By Jermaine Sullivan | Naval Surface Warfare Center, Philadelphia Division’s Advanced Data Acquisition...

Photo By Jermaine Sullivan | Naval Surface Warfare Center, Philadelphia Division’s Advanced Data Acquisition...

AM Chronicle Editor

U.S. Navy ships need to be repaired constantly in order to maintain their integrity. Normally, replacement parts would take a lengthy time to arrive. Additive manufacturing provides an efficient alternative that solves most of these problems.

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According to Phil Greiner, a mechanical engineer for the Advanced Data Acquisition Prototyping Technology Virtual Environments (ADAPT.VE) Lab at Naval Warfare Center, Philadelphia Division, additive manufacturing is “the process of adding material layer by layer to build the part rather than taking material away.”

Additive manufacturing has a plethora of benefits versus traditional subtractive manufacturing, though currently, Sailors have limited 3D printing capabilities that could take advantage of these benefits. Greiner and his team, however, are making this technology more accessible.

“Machining a part traditionally is a little more complicated than 3D printing. Obviously, 3D printing is also complicated, but it allows the engineer or someone to have a file on hand and then send that file to a Sailor and they can say ‘it’s been qualified for this printer, you have the material at your disposal’ … and they will have a part when it is done (printing) that they can use,” Greiner said.

Additionally, additive manufacturing is often a cheaper alternative to machining a part. All of the fuel, manpower, and incidentals of a crew traveling to a ship at sea are eliminated by this process. Sometimes a 3D printed part can be a temporary or permanent fix for a crew to continue their mission.

However, before additive manufacturing materials can come onboard ships they have to go through several tests. One of those tests is the Flame/Smoke Toxicity Test.

“It comes down to the Flame/Smoke Toxicity Test that we have to run on plastics. If it fails that (test) to a certain degree, it’ll (the test) either say ‘we can’t have any of this plastic on the ship or . . . you can store x amount on the ship in the space,’” said Greiner.

After the part is cleared by the Flame/Smoke Toxicity Test, the material must have similar properties as the original part it is replacing. If it doesn’t meet these requirements then it must go through the engineering process again.

“Every plastic has different material properties where you have to look at and then design the part to either work with that material, or we might have to bump up to that next grade of material … Once we say this plastic is allowed on the ship and in that space, then it comes down to … is this plastic going to be strong enough to do what we need it to do,” Greiner said.

Generally, plastics are more favorable to use than metals because plastic 3D printing machines are around $10,000 to $200,000 as opposed to metal 3D printing machines, which could cost upwards of $1 million to $2 million.

Projects that Greiner and the ADAPT.VE Lab commonly work on include the reverse engineering and modification of parts. A current example of this type of project would be the design of a 3D printed cold plate. The part was originally made out of metal, but its replacement is going to be a plastic/carbon fiber composite.

“The part was originally made out of metal. It was going to be a six-month wait and I think each part was upwards of $10,000, and it’s a 1’x1’ square. … So we were tasked with making this part in a shorter timeframe, possibly with better materials, and we are modifying the design a little bit,” Greiner said.

The ADAPT.VE lab was not only able to produce the part for under $1,000, but they were also able to develop the product in under a month. These innovations help ensure the U.S. Navy’s maritime superiority.

Another project that Greiner has been working on is a steering system for another code at NSWCPD.

“They came to us with the project and so we’re making a steering wheel and hub for their systems … In two weeks we created a hub design that they were happy with and 3D printed it. They’re going to use that and test the system … We’re also going to have different ergonomic designs based on their feedback on how the steering wheel feels. The real benefit of 3D printing is the quick iteration that we can do,” Greiner said.Metal Additive Manufacturing Symposium

Collaborations with the ADAPT.VE Lab go beyond locally between codes. The ADAPT.VE Lab has been able to collaborate with other Warfare Centers as well, which is in line with the overall Warfare Centers’ overarching goal of “One Team working together to provide value for the Navy”.

“I work with Carderock (Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division) all the time. I do a lot of mold designs for (NSWCPD) code 332 (Corrosion, Impressed Current Cathodic Protection & Coatings Engineering) and they work with Carderock … We’ve created a lot of molds that will be sent down to Carderock,” Greiner said, noting that these molds will be used for building the tiles that go on the outside of ships.

NSWCPD employs approximately 2,800 civilian engineers, scientists, technicians, and support personnel. The NSWCPD team does the research and development, test and evaluation, acquisition support, and in-service and logistics engineering for the non-nuclear machinery, ship machinery systems, and related equipment and material for Navy surface ships and submarines. NSWCPD is also the lead organization providing cybersecurity for all ship systems.

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