Amphib USS Bataan Can Now Print Spare Parts in Stainless Steel

USS Bataan (U.S. 5th Fleet)

Published Nov 6, 2022 8:15 PM by The Maritime Executive

U.S. Naval Sea Systems Command has installed a 3D metal printer for stainless steel parts aboard the amphib USS Bataan, expanding on past trials with shipboard 3D printing in plastic and aluminum materials. 

The printer aboard Bataan is a Haas TM-1 CNC mill - an affordable toolroom model - with a Meltio 3D laser metal wire print head. Since the print head is built into a CNC mill, the combined system can print up a part in metal and then machine it down to final tolerances, all in the same cabinet. Meltio's system is capable of running on titanium, carbon steel, mild steel and nickel, but for the trial the system will run on 316L stainless, a common shipboard material with excellent corrosion resistance. 

The TM-1 is a large cube weighing two tonnes, making it a tough fit for small ships, but the ample space and weight allowances found on an amphib or a carrier are sufficient. NAVSEA additive manufacturing program manager Jim Pluta told Seapower that in future, a 3D metal printer aboard one large ship - like that aboard Bataan - might support the repair needs of a full task force, like an amphibious ready group or a carrier strike group. This would extend the capability for 3D printing to a large share of the fleet, without putting a printer on every ship. 

Aboard Bataan, the CNC 3D printer will be used to manufacture repair parts for equipment, including components that are obsolete - a realistic possibility, since the ship was commissioned in 1997. This opens up the possibility of repairing systems which would otherwise have to be fully replaced, without waiting for a return to the pier to do it. 

“These printers have the ability to help the Navy overcome both obsolescence issues for ships and systems that have service lives measured in decades and directly contribute to enhanced operational availability of our systems and ships,” said NAVSEA Chief Engineer Rear Adm. Jason Lloyd.

The team also installed a second 3D printer aboard Bataan to print plastic parts. The department has developed digital instructions for printing over 300 plastic objects which might be useful on board, and it is adding to its library. 

NAVSEA's additive manufacturing division has been working towards broader adoption of 3D printing for years. It introduced its first 3D-printed metal parts for an aircraft carrier in 2018, gaining acceptance for the technology in a yard application. NAVSEA continues to work on evaluating 3D printing in a shipboard environment, which has its own unique requirements due to vessel motion. The first 3D aluminum metal printer on a ship went aboard USS Essex earlier this year (sponsored by the Naval Postgraduate School).