Stennis Engineers Use 3D Printer to Make Repairs to Critical Systems

Story Number: NNS181220-16Release Date: 12/20/2018 2:16:00 PM
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By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Joshua Leonard, USS John C. Stennis Public Affairs

ARABIAN SEA (NNS) -- U.S. Sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) repaired a rotary joint in the commercial broadband system program (CBSP) using additive manufacturing (AM), more commonly referred to as 3D printing, to manufacture a temporary solution, Dec. 2.  

When the rotary joint in the CBSP failed, it could have brought down the John C. Stennis’ internet connection. Ship’s engineers and communications personnel collaborated to create the essential part.

“The rotary joint is like a fork on a BMX (motocross bicycle),” said Lt. j.g. Tyler Grim, the exterior communications maintenance division officer onboard John C. Stennis. “The gyro allows the fork to spin 360 degrees without getting the brake lines tangled. The rotary joint works like that. It enables the transmit cables to rotate without getting tangled while maintaining an electrical connection to the rest of the system.

When an uncommon part like the rotary joint fails and has to be replaced, the traditional repair method is time consuming.

“We spent two to three weeks troubleshooting,” said Grimm. “Finally we honed in on the rotary joint. My initial thinking was to get a metal plate manufactured and bolt it into place. We got together with repair division, and Cmdr. Holland (Stennis’ chief engineer) came up with a more sophisticated way using 3D printing to manufacture a solution.”

Grimm’s design for a replacement part was used as the model for the manufactured piece.

“We put together the support structure based on the design Lt. j.g. Grimm recommended,” said Cmdr. Ken Holland, the chief engineering officer onboard John C. Stennis. “Using the understanding of how the additive manufacturing process works and how the component operated, we were able to build a temporary support system to allow the intended piece to rotate as needed.”

Providing Sailors with the technology to create imaginative solutions provides more flexibility to repair equipment. This fix allows the ship to stay online and complete its mission by maintaining communications that serve a plethora of programs.

“The 3D printing equipment allows us the opportunity to come up with alternative ways to restore a system to operation,” said Holland. “It’s probably not the way the manufacturer meant for it to work. In this case, it’s a temporary fix. We were able to fix this component off of one Sailor’s idea.”

The entire process from conception to reality took less than one day. The temporary fix provided by additive manufacturing allowed the ship to continue operating at full capacity, rather than spending four to eight weeks waiting for a replacement part to arrive.

“Since its founding, our Navy has relied on the innovation of our sailors to fix our systems to keep them in the fight,” said Capt. Jason Bridges, OPNAV N415 Branch Head and Navy Lead for additive manufacturing. “Additive Manufacturing adds a new, extremely capable tool that gives us the ability to return systems to operations, even if only temporarily. This example of fixing the CBSP antenna aboard Stennis demonstrates this potential of additive manufacturing to enhance a ship’s combat endurance, an ability that will rapidly expand as the Navy fields additive manufacturing capability in the fleet over the next couple of years.” 

The John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of naval operations to ensure maritime stability and security in the Central Region, connecting the Mediterranean and the Pacific through the western Indian Ocean and three strategic choke points.   

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