News | Dec. 1, 2021

Eye on Innovation: Pedal to the Metal Printing: Norfolk Naval Shipyard Makes Strides in Developing Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence

By Kristi Britt, Public Affairs Specialist Norfolk Naval Shipyard

Innovation is one of the leading focuses for the Department of the Navy, the enterprise coming together to find new ways to deliver on its mission of protecting America. Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) is charging forward to accelerate continuous process improvement and innovation in the world of metal 3-D printing, developing the Additive Manufacturing (AM) Center of Excellence (CoE) as a one-stop shop for the shipyard and its customers to develop tools and parts in-house.

“The AM CoE is a space we’ve been planning and working to achieve since 2020,” said NNSY Technology and Innovation (T&I) AM CoE Project Manager and AM Lead Jessica Roberts. “Currently the shipyard only has the ability to 3-D print with polymers and plastics; however, these new metal printers will be a game changer for what we can do at America’s Shipyard. Our first metal printer, a smaller desktop MetalX machine, was installed mid-November, and we’ve already received multiple request s for metal prints. Long-term, these metal printers will be used to develop tools and end-use parts for our workforce, eventually including critical level prints so we can provide our mechanics and Sailors with the quality products they need while saving on cost and/or time. We’ll be able to identify a part, model it, print it, and get it approved and processed so it can be used inside the shops or onboard vessels. This will especially be huge in the acquisition of long-lead parts, obsolete parts, or parts with strange geometries – giving our workforce the control in getting what we need when we need it.”

This facility is the first of its kind across the four public shipyards with plans to house the new metal printers, including two directed energy deposition (DED) printers, a friction stir welding printer, and a powder bed fusion printer. They will be able to print in a variety of materials, including stainless steel, tool steel, nickel alloy, aluminum and more. With these new capabilities, the shipyard could make great strides in developing tools to complement the shipyard’s current capabilities. As the facility continues to be fitted for its future use, the AM CoE team is coming together to begin lining up the processes, procedures, and approvals needed to ensure a standard of excellence is set.

“At America’s Shipyard, it’s all about ONE TEAM serving ONE MISSION,” said Roberts. “This endeavor is a huge testament to teamwork in order to get equipment up and running and to ensure everything runs smoothly. There are many people involved and excited about what we’re doing here, both directly engaged and helping from the periphery. We would not have gotten this far without their support.” Those involved includes the NNSY T&I Lab, Naval Facilities (NAVFAC) Midlant, the Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Office (Code 106), the Production Facilities Group (Code 900F), the Mechanical Group (Code 930), the Facilities Support Branch (Code 985), Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), the Engineering Planning Department (Code 200), the Quality Assurance Department (Code 130), the Lifting and Handling Department (Code 700), and the Fire Prevention and Protection Security Department (Code 1128). 

The team has been working with shops and codes throughout the shipyard as well as those aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) in identifying possible parts to be considered for printing in the future. In addition, the team has also identified other ways the facility and printers can assist the Navy, including providing collaboration and learning opportunities for other shipyards, warfare centers, and universities within the community.

“We have our first Education Partnership Agreement taking off in 2022 with Old Dominion University specifically for metal printing so we can bring in students to do research, learn, and get hands-on experience with the printers,” said Roberts. “We’re also ready and willing to help our fellow shipyards and others within the AM community, providing ways we can collaborate to continue to innovate and explore what these technologies can achieve.”

The AM CoE is welcoming any part suggestions to be considered for future metal printing. For more information, visit here. You can also contact Roberts at Jessica.f.roberts@navy.mil or the NNSY T&I Lab at 757-396-7180.