Can You Print Naval Ships?

You may not have heard of 3D printers. They use a digital design as a blueprint and then print layer upon layer of plastic, until you create an object in your own house. For this reason, they’re also called material printers. 3D printers are starting to become more common and as far as I’m concerned, they’re going to be one of the next big items that households can’t live without like microwaves and computers. The beauty is that you can quickly manufacture so many things with them as long as you have a design, power and the supplies. Do you need to replace a coaster but don’t want to buy a set of four just to replace one you lost? Print it. Did some small part no longer being manufactured break in your ten year old house? Print it. One professor even talked at a TED event on how to build a house in 20 hours with a printer.

The thing is, there are uses far beyond this and federal acquisition stands to benefit, and I think the Navy stands to potentially benefit in a big way: Print naval ships.

America has a smaller navy than than it has had in a while (285 in 2012 versus 571 in 1985). We don’t have the manufacturing capability that we used to. This could be a way to dramatically cut down on construction time, reduce the costs of ships and boost the number of fleet vessels. That being said, we would need BIG printers and incredibly detailed designs. Theoretically, it is possible. It could be piloted with industry on large commercial ships. The sky could be the limit on this concept.

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David Tallan

I think you are better off starting with printing some of the components that you use to build the naval ships and working your way up.

Right now, it seems to me that 3D printing is more or less at the same level of development that computers were at in the later 70s. Academic and industrial use with limited penetration into the home market – principally hobbyists and kit-builders. That said, technology adoption is faster these days than it was in the 70s. Within the next ten years, I expect them to be ubiquitous.