The Cutter Healy is one of several US Coast Guard ships to have a 3D printer on board ©US Coast Guard Academy
The Cutter Healy is one of several US Coast Guard ships to have a 3D printer on board ©US Coast Guard Academy

Coast Guard prints spares while at sea

11 August 2017

The US Coast Guard is developing the use of 3D printers to create spare parts on board its ships.

The technology has already been used to produce spare parts, and is now being trialed more widely to print parts that are not normally kept on vessels and which may be difficult to source. The Coast Guard said this will improve mission readiness and logistical support.

Captain Joseph Dugan, program manager for the National Security Cutter Program said: “Sometimes those parts have lead times of weeks… maybe months, depending on the workload of the manufacturer.”

“Sometimes manufacturers no longer make the parts, and need to retool a production line in order to make us the part we need,” he added, writing on the official Coast Guard blog.

The project, which is in the evaluation phase, is being run by the the Coastguard Research and Development Center (RDC) in New London, Connecticut. Currently 3D printers are available for crew use on five Coast Guard cutters as well as at several shore units, including Base New Orleans and the Surface Forces Logistics Center Engineering Services Division in Baltimore.

A 3D printer in action on board the Cutter Healy – the spool of polymer is visible on top

Jason Story, RDC project manager, said: “Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, has potential to help smooth some of the logistics issues that the Coast Guard faces with its fleet.”

“This can be time-consuming, and very costly to the government.”

The technology could also be particularly useful for operations in remote areas such as on the Cutter Healy, a 420-foot icebreaker that operates mostly in the Arctic and Bering seas. Story said 3D printing was a natural fit for such vessels. “Because of the geographical location in which it operates, getting spare parts can be difficult,” he said.

The Coast Guard have been 3D printing on the Healy since 2013, where one of the earliest uses was to create a replacement part to repair a remotely operated vehicle that had been crushed in the ice. In 2015 a 3D printer was also used to fix the dishwasher.

Story said that initially the project would focus on desktop-sized printers and would use polymers because the material can be wound on spools making it easy to store and transport. In the future the project will also focus on other materials such as metals.

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