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Around The Fleet

The Fab Lab

Repairs at sea have never been easier

Printing capabilities have been around for a long time. Pictures and documents can be produced in record time.

If it's on the screen, it can be printed in hard copy. That's not particularly incredible. What is incredible is now Sailors have access to 3D printers and computer numerical controlled (CNC) mills, which allow them to create things they never thought possible.

The Fab Lab, located at Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center in Norfolk trains Sailors from all ranks and rates on how to create and design tools and circuits using these printers and CNCs.

"Our focus is workforce development, education training and really harnessing -- not their (Sailors') creativity, because I think Sailors are creative by their own means -- but really the innovation potential," said Lt. Todd Coursey, program officer.

Each person who takes the Fab Lab training has a unique experience. A culinary specialist could use the 3D-printing capability to create food molds, while other Sailors who needed a very specific tool, now have the capability to design that tool and print a prototype or even a functional unit.

The Fab Lab allows Sailors and innovation to gloriously merge together. This is where the concept of one team, one fight lives. The best part is anybody can do it, no matter what rate they are.

"We're a family, we don't see rates and we come together," said Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Kirstene Edwards. "If someone's stuck on something, we come together to fix it as a group collectively."

"There's a lot of other warfare labs and innovation labs in the Navy, but they're production, research and development centric," said Coursey. "What sets us apart from all the others out there in the Navy is we're warfighter centric. So we're here specifically for the people and the fleet."

MARMC Fab Lab personnel are looking at all the different uses the lab could have in the fleet. They can create anything from simple tools to non-critical parts.

The Fab Lab also prides itself on being able to take pretty much anybody from any rate, at any rank, and have them be proficient enough to provide these services.

By having a diverse group of rates come through the Fab Lab, they are better able to see what each rate needs. Each rate has its own personality, which means it has different ways that the 3D printers and CNC mills can be used not only to save money, but also time.

These machines are nothing on their own. It's only because of the people operating them that they are able to be useful. As with everything in the Navy, the key to the success of the Fab Lab is its Sailors. While not all of them have been hand-selected to be there, many have gone from knowing very little about this technology to being highly competent.

The Fab Lab is growing in popularity and placing our Navy on the cutting edge of technology. Twenty years ago, this would have been a scene in a sci-fi movie. Now that it's a reality, there's no telling what tomorrow will bring, but our Sailors are ready.

Two more Fab Labs are scheduled to roll out, one at South East Regional Maintenance Center and one at Southwest Regional Maintenance Center in the form of mobile trailer laboratories with many of the same capabilities of the MARMC Fab Lab.
Graphic for Fab Lab.