USS Essex is first Navy warship to deploy with upgraded 3D printer
Stars and Stripes July 22, 2022
The Navy deployed an updated 3Dprinter on the amphibious assault ship USS Essex recently, an upgrade that promises wider capability and a safer work environment.
The Essex became the first to operate a Xerox ElemX 3D printer while underway when it took the machine aboard July 8, said Lt. Cmdr. Nicolas Batista, the Essex’s aircraft intermediate maintenance department officer. The printer was installed in time for the multinational Rim of the Pacific exercise underway at Hawaii and California.
The Navy and Department of Defense are focusing on implementing new technologies, a Xerox manager told Stars and Stripes.
“The advantage of the ElemX is that unlike other metal 3D printing technologies that use hazardous, and potentially explosive metal powders, we use aluminum wire as a material input,” Tali Rosman, general manager of Xerox Elem Additive, said by email Wednesday. “This means there is no need for personal protective equipment or special facility modifications, making our technology more easily deployable on board a naval ship.”
3D printers are not new to the U.S. military. The Marines are finding new applications for the printers to keep their equipment running and repaired in the field, far from conventional supply lines.
The Essex had a uPrint Polymer 3D Printer onboard during its July 2018 to January 2019 deployment, Batista said. The ElemX, unlike the uPrint, uses 4008 aluminum standards that can withstand higher loads and is more rigid.
Also, the ElemX requires minimal post-processing, providing a finished part in a matter of hours, as opposed to several days with other 3D metal technologies, Rosman said.
The printer is in the Essex’s aircraft intermediate maintenance department’s composite shop, Batista said. The shop works on airframes, avionics and support equipment for aircraft. The engineering and combat systems shop also has technicians trained to operate the printer.
Batista said the crew has printed numerous items, including small hydraulic valve hand wheels, fire hose spanner wrenches and light brackets.
“This 3D Printer will essentially bridge the gap in some of our supply chain shortfalls by providing organic repair capability in printing much-needed tools and parts, which enhances our capabilities in increasing material readiness in an expedited turnaround time,” Batista said.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Roxanne Barrera, 22, an aviation structural mechanic from Torrance, Calif., briefed Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro about the ElemX on Tuesday. She said the device is important because it makes parts more readily available for the crew.
“This could be very beneficial for aviation parts in the future, and I am excited to see this through,” Barrera said via email.
The printer is being evaluated at sea on its performance under the ship's speed, humidity, temperature and sea state.