Sailors 3D-Print Critical Component at Sea Using Johns Hopkins APL-Installed Hybrid Manufacturing System
The amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) sails in the Arabian Gulf on April 23, 2020. The 3D-printed sprayer plate was used to repair the ship’s ballasting system, which provides critical stability while the vessel is underway.
Credit: U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Darren Newell
Mon, 11/13/2023 - 15:05
Sailors on board the USS Bataan (LHD 5) recently used the first hybrid manufacturing system permanently installed aboard a naval surface ship to fabricate a component and deliver critical repairs while at sea. The part, a stainless steel sprayer plate used to repair one of the ship’s de-ballasting air compressors, was made and installed in less than five days with support from Naval Sea Systems Command’s Technology Office (NAVSEA 05T) and Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) engineers — turning the Navy’s Afloat Additive Manufacturing concept into reality.
“[The sprayer plate] is designed to disperse lubricating and cooling oil on the helical gears, as well as the bearings behind the helical gears, and it was all fully manufactured on the ship,” said Machinery Repairman 1st Class Cory Hover. With the air compressors repaired, the ship’s ballasting system, which provides much needed stability, was operational once again, and the Bataan avoided a costly and inopportune return to port for repairs.
Machinery Repairman 1st Class Cory Hover demonstrates the software used to design the sprayer plate used to cool, lubricate and maintain oil pressure for the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Bataan’s (LHD 5) #4 de-ballasting air compressor. The sprayer plate was completely designed and fabricated aboard the ship using the newly added Haas TM1 Additive Manufacturing Hybrid CNC Machine.
Credit: U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Bradley Rickard
The hybrid manufacturing system, which APL installed in October 2022, features both Directed Energy Deposition 3D-printing additive as well as traditional subtractive manufacturing capabilities, such as milling and drilling. When the sprayer plate on the ship broke and there weren’t any spares available, sailors reached out to NAVSEA and APL to see whether the part could be manufactured onboard using the newly installed printer.
“Neither NAVSEA nor APL had the technical data package, which is a set of instructions for the printer to produce a specific part, for the sprayer plate developed yet,” said Craig Hughes, the assistant program manager for Expeditionary Logistics in APL’s Force Projection Sector (FPS). “The sailors on the ship used CAD [computer-aided design] software to produce a digital model of the part that was then sent to us here at APL using the secure Digital Manufacturing Environment, and our machinist used that file to test and refine the part’s production.”
“APL is uniquely positioned to respond to this challenge because of the breadth of expertise at the Lab,” said Ed Chapman, the assistant manager of the Maritime Expeditionary Warfare Program Area in FPS. “Where our Sea Control Mission Area excels at understanding the Navy’s needs and developing solutions to address those needs, our teammates in the Research and Exploratory Development Department have the deep technical knowledge necessary to make those solutions a reality. This achievement is a culmination of years of teamwork.”
APL’s campus in Laurel, Maryland, is home to an identical printing system. Using that system, senior mechanical fabrication technician Hunter Turco and Drew Seker, an APL mechanical engineer and project manager, worked in close coordination with Bryan Kessel, a mechanical engineer in NAVSEA’s Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, to produce the part using only the tools that were available to the sailors aboard the ship.
“There were several holes that we had to drill within the part, and drilling in stainless steel isn’t easy,” said Turco. “The tooling that they had on the ship wasn’t optimal for the situation, but because we knew exactly what we put on the ship and we knew what they had available, we were able to test it here. We developed the CAM [computer-aided manufacturing] files at APL, finessed the tooling and programming, and used the Digital Manufacturing Environment to share those instructions with the machinists onboard so they could produce it themselves. We stayed in communication with them throughout the process to ensure the part was properly manufactured.”
Drew Seker, Bryan Kessel and Hunter Turco were part of the team that helped Navy sailors fabricate a stainless steel sprayer plate at sea. Kessel is holding an identical replica of the sprayer plate that was fabricated at APL.
Credit: Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman
With the successful production of the sprayer plate serving as a proof of concept, the APL team is working with the Navy to expand and improve the Digital Manufacturing Environment, which is a communication system that enables the storing and transmission of NAVSEA-developed technical data packages from shore to ship.
“3D printing is the way of the future,” said Bataan Chief Engineer Lt. Cmdr. Gaston Hatfield. “We took a part that was not available in the stock system and printed it while at sea in less time than normal supply chains could have delivered it for repair.”
“It’s been an exciting progression and transition of skills and tools,” said Seker. “First, we had the installation of the printer itself, which was a huge upgrade in technology for the ship; and then we had service members use digital modeling applications and tools that we trained them on, and now they’re producing fully functional parts. We’re looking forward to continuing to learn and support one another, and improve maritime logistics for the Navy.”
The Applied Physics Laboratory, a not-for-profit division of The Johns Hopkins University, meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of science and technology. For more information, visit www.jhuapl.edu.