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MSC’s USNS Sacagawea Supports Additive Manufacturing Platform
9 Apr 2018
Personnel from Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) joined forces with Marines from the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) and Marine Wing Communications Squadron (MWCS) 18 to test an additive manufacturing function aboard Military Sealift Command’s USNS Sacagawea (T-AKE 2) April 2–7.

Additive manufacturing (AM), also known as 3D printing, is the layering process of building a physical model from a digital file out of a material, such as plastic, metal, or other material depending on the end-use application.

The USNS Sacagawea, part of Maritime Prepositioning Ships Squadron Three (MPSRON 3), is a dry cargo/ammunition ship that provides ammunition, food, repair parts, stores and small quantities of fuel for the U.S. Marine Corps as well as other military service branches.

While aboard Sacagawea, embarked Marines and personnel successfully demonstrated the capability to respond to shipboard maintenance issues and requests. They additionally simulated replication of parts for shore-side requests by designing and printing the part aboard Sacagawea and then delivering to shore.

“The idea behind this platform is to eliminate the congestion that supply and demand handles at times. It’ll be faster to get gear up and running if it has a deadline; we can take a part and measure the object or scan it, print it and send it out for use,” said Lance Cpl. Trevor Wurster, MWCS 18. “In its current state, it’s not necessarily a permanent fix, but it is a reasonable enough fix to complete a mission and at least give supply time to catch up with demand.”

In the short–term, deploying printers afloat and in expeditionary settings allows for war-fighter innovation and replacement of low-criticality, low-risk parts. In the long-term, additive manufacturing equipment will be part of a larger advanced manufacturing capability that combines traditional and digital capabilities to expand the repair and maintenance toolkit.

“The intent behind embarking 3D printers aboard ships is to provide Sailors and Marines with the training and tools necessary to empower them and address everyday problems,” said Nathan Desloover, an engineer with the additive manufacturing project office, NSWC Carderock Division. “Embarked additive manufacturing equipment is meant to solve the needs of Sailors and Marines by enabling war-fighter innovation and adding a tool that can help with maintenance and repair of components and systems that suffer from long lead-times and part obsolescence.”

The naval enterprise faces ongoing readiness challenges due to part obsolescence and the ability to rapidly obtain parts in forward-deployed and afloat environments. Additive manufacturing, as a digital technology, offers a unique ability to fabricate parts directly from a digital file, on demand, at the point of need.

Small parts that are part of a larger system or subsystem are often not able to be purchased individually, requiring the entire system to be replaced and significantly increasing cost. Having an additive manufacturing capability available allows these parts to be created quickly and affordably, getting the system up and running either permanently, or until a replacement unit can be ordered and delivered.

MPSRON 3, operating in the western Pacific, maintains tactical control of the 16 ships carrying afloat prepositioned U.S. military cargo for the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Army, and the U.S. Air Force. The squadron’s mission is to enable force from the sea by providing swift and effective transportation of vital equipment and supplies for designated operations.

MSC operates approximately 115 non-combatant, civilian-crewed ships that replenish U.S. Navy ships, conduct specialized missions, strategically preposition combat cargo at sea around the world and move military cargo and supplies used by deployed U.S. forces and coalition partners.

Story by Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher Veloicaza


3D Marine Expeditionary Brigade