Metal 3D Printer provides on demand spares at sea

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US Navy is performing sea trials with a 3D printer from Xerox

Xerox has battened down the hatches on its ElemX 3D metal printer to install it on the USS Essex for sea trials in the Pacific Rim

An ElemX liquid metal printer was recently been installed on board USS Essex, making it the first metal additive manufacturing machine deployed on a US Naval vessel.

The equipment was placed on the ship in Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, with at-sea trials beginning immediately. The installation is the latest step in the US Navy’s strategy of using additive manufacturing (AM) to increase operational readiness for the fleet. It also builds on the relationship between the Navy and Xerox Elem Additive that began with the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California receiving an installation of the ElemX in 2020.

The ElemX makes use of Xerox’s liquid metal AM technology that uses standard aluminium wire. Unlike other metal 3D printing technologies, there are no hazardous metal powders and no need for special facility modifications or personal protective equipment to operate the machine. The printer also requires minimal post-processing and therefore provides a faster time-to-part. This ability to produce reliable replacement parts on-demand reduces the dependency on complex global supply chains for deployed forces.

To withstand various sea states and environmental challenges that naval warships encounter, the ElemX was installed in an industrial shipping container to ruggedise it. Currently at sea on board USS Essex, trials have already begun to establish operational guidelines and technical feasibility studies to determine applications and use cases. A team on board USS Essex will design and print shipboard items and provide feedback to the Navy.

Jonathan Newell
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