Life at sea is full of improvising. Ships can only carry so much stuff, and can’t easily go to a warehouse for spare parts, so when something is broken or doesn’t quite work right, the crew has to find a solution with what they have on hand. With a 3-D printer on board, that improvisation becomes really easy, as the crew of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman are finding out. One of two U.S. Navy ships deployed to the Middle East with 3-D printers, the utility of the device seems immediately apparent.
Thinking decades ahead, the Navy has big plans for 3-D printing, like making human tissue on demand for medical emergencies, or custom-printing drones and missiles as a mission requires. For now, though, the printer is solving much simpler tasks, like lost caps and awkward funnels.
From the Virginia Pilot
Within their first weeks of deploying in November, sailors already had created and "printed out" custom dust caps and a wrench. A sailor in the "fab lab" designed his own solution after he and others grew frustrated that an oil cup on a machine was too small for a funnel.
"It required at least two people to get all the oil in the cup, so I figured we have this technology here, why not try something that would make this task easier," Petty Officer 2nd Class Raymond Lee said. "I came up with an extension that narrows the nozzle, cuts the manpower in half, ensures there's no spilled oil all over the deck."
Parts are designed with computers in the fabrication station, and printed to order right on board. It's a pretty great solution to an ancient sailor’s problem.
By Kelsey D. Atherton for popularscience.com