Xerox teams up with Navy for 3D printing
Printing parts wherever could simplify complex supply chains Metal Tech News – February 10, 2021
Last updated 2/9/2021 at 5:08pm
Xerox and the Naval Postgraduate School recently announced a strategic collaboration focused on advancing additive manufacturing research, specifically 3D metal printing, which has the potential to dramatically transform the way the military supplies its forward-deployed forces but also may open the door to other industries utilizing 3D printing for convenience and efficiency.
As part of a Collaborative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), NPS was the first to receive an installation of the Xerox ElemX 3D metal printer on its campus in December.
The printer is intended to provide NPS faculty and students with hands-on exploration of new ways the growing technology can deliver on-demand 3D printing of metal parts and equipment.
With access to the latest additive manufacturing equipment, NPS will use the ElemX printer to conduct thesis research to develop new capabilities for the Navy and Marine Corps.
"The military supply chain is among the most complex in the world, and NPS understands first-hand the challenges manufacturers must address," said Xerox chief technology officer Naresh Shanker. "This collaboration will aid NPS in pushing adoption of 3D printing throughout the U.S. Navy, and will provide Xerox valuable information to help deliver supply chain flexibility and resiliency to future customers."
In environments where access to replacement parts or tools may be costly in time and money to ship or even impossible to deliver, the ability to print the necessary component needed to fix an emergency or annoyance already presents itself as invaluable.
"As the Department of the Navy's applied research university, NPS combines student operational experience with education and research to deliver innovative capabilities and develop innovative leaders with the knowhow to use them," said NPS President and retired Vice Admiral Ann Rondeau. "This collaborative research effort with Xerox and the use of their 3D printing innovations is a great example of how NPS uniquely prepares our military students to examine novel approaches to create, make, prototype and manufacture capability wherever they are."
The same ability to manufacture an emergency part aboard a Naval ship in the middle of the Pacific extends to polar outposts, roadless mines, or even beneath the ocean – anywhere ease of access is limited or inhibited by weather or other circumstance, a 3D printer offers limitless possibilities.
Simply by sending an email, zipped folder, opening up Dropbox or accessing Google Drive, if the design has been created using software modeling and is formatted for the printer, the sky's the limit.
"From the age of sail to the nuclear era, sailors have been fixing things at sea so they can complete the mission," continued Rondeau. "This partnership is about the strategic ability of the Navy to have sailors on ships with the capability through creativity and technology to advance their operations at sea. Through collaboration, NPS and Xerox are helping build a Navy for the 21st century."
The Xerox ElemX is a liquid metal style of 3D printer that uses a cost-effective metallic wire, in this case aluminum, to fabricate end-use parts that can withstand the rigors of operational demands. This ability to produce reliable replacement parts on-demand is expected to reduce the dependency on complex global supply chains for deployed forces and to also address the hidden costs of traditional manufacturing.
While a nut or bolt may cost cents, it can add up if tens of thousands are needed consistently throughout the year, every year, which includes material, manufacturing and shipping costs. Having a stock always at the ready, with only the base material being needed could potentially save on military spending which is ultimately American tax dollars.
According to Xerox, global supply chains leave industries like aerospace, automotive, heavy equipment and oil and gas vulnerable to external risks. By implementing a system of localized manufacturing with 3D printing into operations, the real-time feedback from the Navy Postgraduate School will give crucial data to continuously improve ElemX and ultimately 3D printing around the globe for innumerable industries that would require similar capabilities for printing from anywhere.