By Shannon Lawlor
The USS Essex is home to a new 3D printer. 3D printers would increase naval readiness in battle because materials could be created directly onboard. The implementation of this technology would develop more self-sufficient ships. The Navy’s new 3D printer is a game changer for future naval ships. Keep reading to learn more!

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The USS Essex and the Naval Postgraduate Institute

In January 2021, the Department of Defense announced its first additive manufacturing strategy. The strategy focused on incorporating 3D printing into military efforts. In response to this strategy, the Naval Postgraduate School began to work on research for developing a 3D printer for the Navy. The Naval Postgraduate School worked with Xerox, a printing company, to obtain a 3D printer in early 2021. The Naval Postgraduate Institute has been a leading source of research regarding this technology. The USS Essex is a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship currently stationed in Hawaii at JB Pearl Harbor-Hickam. The assault ship had a 3D printer in 2014, but the Naval Postgraduate Institute helped install a new 3D printer on the ship in 2022. They ran diagnostics in early July while testing was being conducted. The Xerox 3D printer installation on the USS Essex was facilitated by the Naval Postgraduate Institute, Commander, Naval Surface Force, and U.S. Pacific Fleet. It’s supposedly one of the fastest printers on the market.

What Does the 3D Printer Do?

The 3D printer was used on the USS Essex during the Navy’s Rim of the Pacific exercise. This exercise was conducted to expand on maritime forces and test a wide range of capabilities. The printer is capable of fabricating and printing aluminum. So, its testing and evaluation produced several shipboard items for the Navy. 3D printing is an essential component for increasing a ship’s self-sufficiency. The USS Essex is the first ship to undergo the initial testing. Testing with the printer onboard will include determining the printer’s viability when it’s out at sea. The capabilities are fairly limited but still impressive with this 3D printer. Projects for the Navy ship include printing materials like fuel adapters, valve covers, and bleed air valves, which can now be created by the Xerox 3D printer. Navy officials are looking to expand upon the 3D printer technology and its printing abilities. Certificate programs are also being established to help service members at the DoD learn more about it.

The Future of Military 3D Printing

3D printing will likely make its way to the Naval Air Force, as well. Efforts are already underway to establish a work center for 3D printing concepts. The U.S. Pacific Fleet and the Naval Air Systems Command have also begun to think about 3D printing. 3D printer projects raise a lot of questions about the future of the military. The capabilities of these technologies make us wonder… What’s next? Official 3D printed guns? Military 3D printed drones? What will the military and Navy look to include in the future? The 3D printed parts we’re seeing now with naval ships show a promising step forward into a future with great technological advances for easy access to imperative materials. The USS Essex’s new 3D printer illustrates an interesting future for naval ships. It’s changing the game for the Navy and their war readiness. Increased self-sufficiency and the opportunity to improve the supply chain issues in the military are possible results of the 3D printers. We’re likely to see this kind of technology being implemented in other areas of the military.

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