According to the U.S. Naval Air System Command (NAVAIR), the United State Navy is set to heavily integrate 3D printing in the production processes. Sources within NAVAIR say that by the end of this year, there will be about 1,000 different 3D printed parts certified, approved and used across their fleet. Currently, there are only 135 parts are authorized and in use, meaning that this will be a rapid transformation of their workflow.NAVAIR plans to use 3D printing across a broad spectrum of things, ranging from helmet modifications to crucial aircraft parts. For these parts, NAVAIR has developed categories of airworthiness to help determine the amount of time required fabricating each part. Two years ago, they became the first to 3D print usable parts critical to safety on board a successful MC-22B Osprey flight. Last year, NAVAIR installed a 3D printed flip-top valve onto a T-45 Goshawk breathing mask which allows pilots in training to breathe in cabin air until they reach a specific altitude. Within a month of this installation, NAVAIR produced 300 more valves after their success. The standards they require in order to approve that a part is fit for their processes – such as flight – are extremely high. According to Elizabeth McMichael, NAVAIR’s Additive Manufacturing Lead, “I think what’s standing in our way is [a lack of] standards. Anybody can print something. They need to be able to print it in a way that meets required performance. We’re trying to ensure that people know that making aviation components requires some controls to ensure safety.” That being said, a testament to the advancement of 3D printing can be made as the Navy is set to to certify over 800 parts by the end of the year.
McMichael and her team are planning to launch a website which will give users – program offices, sailors and marines – to request parts for 3D printing. It will also provide them with the ability to track the request progress and view technical information of the parts approved for 3D printing. McMichael explains, “the Naval Aviation community sees the potential for AM and wants to use it to solve problems. The reason we’re starting up a website is to centralize requests so we understand demand, and have a way to prioritize and manage them.”
Over the past few years, the Navy has made a dedicated effort to develop 3D printing for Naval use. This included a $2.8 million contract that the U.S. Office of Naval Research granted for the development of 3D printed parts. The U.S. Navy also has plans to utilize block-chain technology in order to guarantee the sharing of data in the additive manufacturing technology processes.