U.S. Navy to Use 3D Printed Components in New Nuclear Subs

Published on September 27, 2023 by Michael M.

The U.S. Navy stretches around the world as one of the farthest-reaching branches of the North American superpower. It demands the most cutting-edge technology to enhance its operational effectiveness as it patrols the oceans of the world. To fill that role, additive manufacturing has been increasingly in the news as the Navy turns to 3D printing to meet its demand and develop transformative new approaches to its submarine manufacturing in particular. Now, HII Newport News Shipbuilding and General Dynamics Electric Boat have announced that they will implement additive manufacturing on the fleet’s new Virginia-class nuclear submarines, an icon of the U.S. Navy. Thanks to 3D printing they hope to speed up the construction of ships, reduce supply chain reliance and make faster deliveries.

HII and General Dynamics have become part of the Virginia-class submarine production team. These new submarines feature advanced intelligence equipment, battle group support and mine warfare capabilities. The goal of this project is to design a submarine whose production times are shorter and is more advanced in materials and capabilities than the contemporary model it is planned to replace, the Los Angeles-class. For its manufacture, marine alloys such as copper-nickel are being implemented as an alternative building material to the traditional metals that have been used in shipbuilding for years. This particular alloy, copper-nickel, is slated for use in the 3D printed manufacturing of deck drains.

The 3D printed pieces for use in the subs (Photo credits: HII)

The key part targeted for 3D printing on the Virginia-class submarine is the deck drains – ducts whose function is to move water from one specific location to another aboard the sub. AMMCON, a manufacturing supplier, in collaboration with naval specialists HII and General Dynamics Electric Boat, tested the drains. The result was a success, demonstrating the parts’ strength and the overall cost-effectiveness of 3D printing the pieces. These drains have since been installed on the Virginia-class USS Oklahoma (SSN-802), which is currently under construction. It is believed that the Oklahoma could be a model to be implemented in the production of the rest of the Virginia-class submarines. Its quick and easy fabrication and low cost make the 3D printed drainage system the ideal choice for the Navy.

Newport News Shipbuilding Vice President of Engineering and Design Dave Bolcar said, “As a leader in additive manufacturing for shipbuilding, we are aggressively looking for opportunities to find ways to incorporate this technology into mainstream shipbuilding”. To carry out the project, the Navy has approved a series of proposals to streamline the requirements necessary to approve more ‘low-risk’ 3D-designed parts for use in their vessels. Efforts to install parts created with additive manufacturing on submarines demonstrate the technology’s potential to dramatically reduce lead times for critical components.

Construction underway on the USS New Jersey, a Virginia-class submarine (Photo credits: Huntington Ingalls)

What do you think of the U.S. Navy’s latest 3D printed addition to its shipbuilding process? Let us know in a comment below or on our LinkedInFacebook, and Twitter pages! Don’t forget to sign up for our free weekly Newsletter here, the latest 3D printing news straight to your inbox! You can also find all our videos on our YouTube channel.

*Cover Photo Credits: General Dynamics

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