WEST BETHESDA, Md. (NNS) -- Members of Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC), Carderock Division's Disruptive Technology Laboratory (DTL) and their partners were awarded a 2017 Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) Commander's Award for Innovation July 19 for achieving an unprecedented feat through additive manufacturing (AM).
With sponsorship from the Office of Naval Research (ONR), the DTL worked closely with military and government partners to rapidly design and print prototypes using a large-scale AM platform located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. This team created the largest 3-D printed naval asset ever, a proof-of-concept hull print for the Optionally Manned Technology Demonstrator (OMTD). According to sponsor Michael Wardlaw, head of maritime sensing at ONR, the OMTD team assembled a large and diverse coalition to demonstrate the scalability of AM to various full-scale naval missions.
"The DTL at Carderock, and DTL Director Garry Shields in particular, has been incredibly successful in creating, cultivating and leveraging an extensive coalition of willing participants in a regular drumbeat of technology discovery discussions. These discussions have consistently yielded new and innovative approaches for addressing some of the Navy's most significant operational constraints," said Wardlaw, who provided technical guidance, programmatic support and principal funding behind OMTD. "Our intent was to provide something so disruptive to conventional expectations that it would demand reflection and re-evaluation of our commonly held constraints about how tactically relevant platforms can be built."
The OMTD test article is 30 feet long and based on the Mark 8 Mod 1 SEAL delivery vehicle (SDV) currently in use, which is a manned submersible used to deliver SEALs and their equipment for special operations. Each SDV hull takes between 3 and 5 months to manufacture at a cost of $600,000 to 800,000 each, while rapid prototypes can be additively manufactured at a fraction of the cost and in days or weeks, according to Shields, who is the OMTD leadership team leader.
"We asked ourselves, 'Can we do it a different way and get different results?'" Shields said. "This is a collapsing of the design and manufacturing spiral at an incredible iteration rate at very low cost. The impact of this may be that we change the way we play the game."
The current test article exists thanks to a phone call Shields placed to Dr. Lonnie Love, Manufacturing Systems Research Group leader at ORNL's Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF), part of the Department of Energy (DOE).
"Last year, Garry called me and pitched the idea of using large-scale AM for naval applications and it was like two sparks hitting at the same time," Love said. "The MDF had all the tools and capabilities to address his challenges. It was great being able to reach outside the box and come up with a collaborative solution engaging both DOE and DOD. We're putting puzzle pieces together and advancing on both sides."
Partners at the two-week rapid prototyping event in August 2016 included U.S. Army Picatinny Arsenal; Navy Special Warfare; ONR; Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; Naval Air Systems Command; the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory; NSWC Crane Division; NSWC Panama City Division; NSWC Philadelphia Division; Naval Undersea Warfare Center Newport; and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
Kevin Shay and Derek Morin, engineers with the Y-12 National Security Complex, also participated in this event, providing input on materials and machines for AM and producing a small-scale prototype overnight on the first day for further discussions by the team.
"The activity reinforced for me how an exciting technology like AM gets people fired up and thinking in ways they haven't thought before," Shay said. "Because of the compartmented nature of our mission, I sometimes feel like I work in a bubble. This activity revealed to me that we have really talented people contributing to our country's security."
The OMTD group then split into three teams that each created scaled prototypes using ORNL's AM systems and the SDV as a template during the first week. These prototypes progressed from one-twenty-fourth scale to one-twelfth and then one-third, with the team looking at the pros and cons of each design and collaborating to reach a consensus on a single design.
"In the course of one week we iterated through several design exercises that helped us optimize our design for AM and make decisions on production components," said Chris Van Valkenburgh, innovation manager of the Innovation Project at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. "No one person can do everything; it requires teamwork and trust to develop a printable design. This established a marketplace of ideas and when we sat down together as a group to agree upon a common design, we were able to pick and choose components and features from competing designs."
Simeon Ryan, a naval architect with Carderock's Center for Innovation in Ship Design at Carderock's headquarters in West Bethesda, Maryland, created the initial 3-D model of the OMTD design using 3-D modeling software, worked with colleagues on the OMTD's energy module and made multiple trips to ORNL with Shields. He believes the success of OMTD can be attributed to the environment at the event and said he gained a great deal of knowledge and experience with 3-D printing and modeling that he will carry through his career.
"The atmosphere that was created at the rapid innovation event encouraged open communication and free flow of ideas between veteran professionals and new, young talent. Everyone was put into one room to brainstorm, design, innovate and engineer," Ryan said. "It was the most productive environment I have experienced in my professional career so far."
The second week started a full-scale print of the hull, which was produced in six sections and shipped to commercial partner TruDesign, LLC for assembly and post-processing before final delivery to Carderock. Delfin Jose Quijano, a mechanical engineer who works for the Army at Picatinny Arsenal in Wharton, New Jersey, and was a partner at the prototyping event, said the experience was a great one, especially considering everyone's willingness and ability to come together and exchange ideas in productive teams despite just having met. He added that he hopes it leads to more collaboration between the Army and Navy.
As a proof-of-concept hull, OMTD isn't currently operational or testable in the water - this version showed the art of the possible, and that it can indeed be done, according to Kevin Lin, a member of Carderock's Advanced Power and Energy Group (APEG), who created the primary design of the OMTD's energy module with his colleagues Alex Askari and Joseph Curran. The APEG members have worked on several projects that have been incorporated into OMTD and will be in the future, including the Forward Deployed Energy and Communications Outpost (FDECO), the Non-penetrating Optionally Manned Demonstrator (OMTD's predecessor), and Underwater Wireless Energy Transfer (UnWET), the latter of which won Lin and his colleagues recognition in the 2015 Secretary of the Navy Innovation Awards.
Along with FDECO, a planned underwater wireless charging network for unmanned underwater vehicles like SDVs that would allow them to operate indefinitely, UnWET represents technology that will build upon the progress already made with OMTD.
"The ultimate vision for this system is to create a disposable or limited-use vehicle that can be reconfigured very quickly and has modular energy and data systems," Lin said. "This is not just a 3-D printed vehicle; it's a host of different potential technologies and existing technologies that are integrated into one very awesome working device. Future generations will be able to operate both manned and unmanned, so energy becomes very critical there."
The next version of OMTD will be produced at ORNL and tested at Carderock in fiscal year 2018, with fleet-capable prototypes scheduled to arrive in fiscal year 2019. Mark Johnson, director of DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Advanced Manufacturing Office, which oversees the MDF, said working with Carderock, an institution possessing deep expertise in naval systems technologies, on this project is a great example of interagency science and technology collaboration achieving accelerated impact of global importance.
"The additive manufacturing materials and processes for the OMTD test article required the deep scientific expertise resulting from years of research and technical capabilities of ORNL through their MDF. This project harkens back to the roots of Oak Ridge when the lab was established to provide critical scientific infrastructure to the Manhattan Project," Johnson said. "Today, the MDF researchers apply supercomputers to model additive processes, neutron sources to image residual stress in structures and nanoscience to investigate new materials that were subsequently used in OMTD. This scientific prowess was on display where the technical issues arising from using the additive process in large naval structures were overcome by the collaborative team."
Johnson said the technical partnership with Carderock and the DTL also benefited ORNL because technical and scientific challenges that arose in planning and execution of the rapid prototype event and test article print gave rise to the next set of additive materials and process research questions to be answered. As these next challenges are overcome, even greater capabilities will be enabled for the Navy as well as the energy community. Demonstrating a large structural system in this way, he said, provided new insight in addressing challenges in energy.
"These partnerships challenge researchers to think well beyond what is possible with today's technologies and imagine a world where the early-stage research and development in the national laboratory community can most quickly and effectively translate to capabilities serving the national missions in security and energy," Johnson said. "By challenging these outstanding individuals to do something awesome, they have stepped up and we see results. It was an opportunity for each agency to pursue their individual missions, while achieving something pretty incredible together: a 3-D printed submersible."
This extensive, productive collaboration between organizations results from how the DTL has operated since its foundation six years ago, according to Shields. From its beginning in a basement office with eight Carderock employees talking about the role of robots on ships, leading to exoskeletons being integrated into naval shipyards, the DTL's network of exchanging unorthodox ideas expanded over time to academia, across the entire naval research and development establishment and to all the Warfare Centers, multiple branches of the military and other government agencies like DOE and ONR.
"Because we've been exposed to all this technology, we have a different perspective of what a naval vessel can be," Shields said. "We think about things like disposability of ships as assets. We don't think ships should last 30 years; they should last just so long as they prosecute the problem they're trying to solve, then you grind them up and print another one that has different characteristics.
"A lot of the things we are talking about in the DTL aren't going to happen for 65 years. It takes a lot of energy and a lot of money to make these things happen. We built an architecture of trust that says we won't criticize one another's ideas, no matter what it may be or how farfetched. That gets you to the product that goes into the marketplace and that's what will bring this technology to the fleet."
Four other entrants received the NAVSEA Commander's Award for Innovation this year: Kenneth A. Fischer of NSWC Philadelphia; the Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Conversion and Repair Groton, Connecticut's Aged Contract Closeouts Team; and two other entries from Carderock: Establishment of the Manufacturing, Knowledge and Education (MAKE) Lab Team and Radar Cross Section Measurement Systems Upgrade Simultaneous Data Collection.
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