The Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) approved the first ever additive manufacturing (AM) printed metal part for shipboard installation, the command said on Thursday. 

Additive manufacturing is another term for 3D printing. The component in question is a prototype drain strainer orifice (DSO) assembly and it will be installed on the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) in FY 2019 for a single year test and evaluation trial.

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) transits the Atlantic Ocean in September 2018. (Photo: U.S. Navy)
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) transits the Atlantic Ocean in September 2018. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The Navy explained a DSO assembly is a steam system component that allows drainage/removal of water from a steam line while in use.

NAVSEA said CVN-75’s builder, Huntington Ingalls Industries’ [HII] Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS), proposed installing the printed DSO assembly on a carrier for test and evaluation. HII specified it expects the device to be installed in early calendar year 2019.

The AM technique used here entails a digitized process wherein a machine deposits metal powder layer by layer to create three-dimensional metal alloy parts. The goal is use use this technology to more cheaply and easily replace parts for military systems

The prototype device has so far passed functional and environmental testing, which includes material, welding, shock, vibration, hydrostatic, and operational steam. It will now continue to be evaluated while it is installed in a low temperature and low pressure saturated steam system on CVN-75.

Once the test and evaluation period is finished, the prototype will be removed, analyzed, and inspected.

“This is a watershed moment in our digital transformation, as well as a significant step forward in naval and marine engineering,” Charles Southall, Newport News’ vice president of engineering and design, said in a statement.

The Navy has been using additive manufacturing for years, but using a metal additive manufactured product for Navy systems is a newer idea. The service underscored it used traditional mechanical testing to identify requirements and acceptance criteria for the prototype’s design, production, and first article testing.

For now, final requirements are still under review.

An official noted NAVSEA has multiple efforts underway to develop specifications and standards for more commonly used additive manufacturing processes.

“Specifications will establish a path for NAVSEA and industry to follow when designing, manufacturing and installing AM components shipboard and will streamline the approval process,” Justin Rettaliata, technical warrant holder for additive manufacturing, said in a statement.

According to Rear Adm. Lorin Selby, NAVSEA chief engineer and deputy commander of ship design, integration and naval engineering, “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,”

“By targeting CVN-75, this allows us to get test results faster, so—if successful—we can identify additional uses of additive manufacturing for the fleet,” Selby added,