Earlier this week, a Marine Lieutenant told Congress his pilots were getting less training in their aircraft because of budget constraints, noting that his technicians were forced to 3d print parts to keep an F-18 in operation in one case.
Today, the US Naval Institute's news arm is shedding light on the investments the Navy is making into 3d printing in order to save time, money and hopefully lives.
Lt. Gen. Michael Dana says that instead of keeping spare parts on-hand across the globe, or ordering them from somewhere else and having them sent over, the US Navy wants to 3d print these parts, in metal, closer to where they're needed.
One challenge in developing this new capability is the production of certain material types over others, as USNI notes that "the capability to print plastic parts is very good", while "metals are taking more time to understand."
ThreeD Materials reported earlier this year that Marines in North Carolina were learning to use additive manufacturing (3d printing) inside fabrication labs, and Lt. Dana noted that while these new skills will help US Military personnel modernize supply chains, they can also be used to "get the service out of a tight spot in the near term – having held onto the Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAVs) and some aircraft for much longer than originally intended", noting "the service now finds itself needing components whose manufacturers have long gone out of business."
3D printing is one of many technologies the Navy is investing resources into, however Lt. Dana noted that having tunnel vision can sometimes benefit his teams.
"You’ve got to go after some very focused, achievable goals that will yield operational and tactical dividends that everyone can see, because the thing that I have a hard time with is, the good news is we’ve got a lot of innovative people, the challenge is there’s tens of thousands of good ideas out there, and everyone wants to go in so many different directions because there are so many neat things."