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The Navy teamed up with Oak Ridge National Laboratory to print the military's first 3D-printed submersible hull.

Video courtesy of the Department of Energy


Planes, automobiles, and…submersibles? Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) just made a big splash with its latest application of 3D printing. Through a partnership with the Navy’s Disruptive Technology Lab, the team at ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) created the military’s first 3D-printed submersible hull.

The Optionally Manned Technology Demonstrator is a prototype vessel that could be used to deploy logistics capabilities and sensors. In the future, vessels will need to be manufactured faster and incorporate new designs to support each Navy mission. 


Building a 3D-Printed Submersible

Oak Ridge National Laboratory's BAAM machine 3D prints a submarine hull.
ORNL's BAAM machine reduced hull production costs by 90% and shortened production costs to a matter of days.

The team needed to create a 30-foot proof-of-concept hull out of carbon fiber composite material. With just four weeks to get the job done, the Navy didn’t hesitate to get their feet wet—they dove right into learning about Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM). The new technology deep-dive at the MDF lasted about a week. By week two they were printing their design. The rapid turnaround and round-the-clock printing of BAAM allowed the team to assemble the six pieces of the hull during the third week.

The cost of a traditional hull ranges from $600,000 to $800,000 and typically takes 3-5 months to manufacture. Using BAAM reduced hull production costs by 90% and shortened production time to a matter of days—giving the Navy the opportunity to create “on demand” vehicles while also saving time, money, and energy. 

Going to New Depths

Last week, the Navy team received the prestigious NAVSEA Commanders Award for Innovation, but they aren’t stopping yet. They’re taking the plunge on the next phase of the project: creating a second, water-tight version of the hull that will be tested in the wave pool at Carderock—an elite testing facility that mimics the most compromising conditions that ships and submarines could encounter in the open ocean. Fleet-capable prototypes could be introduced as early as 2019.

The submarine hull is made up of six carbon fiber composite pieces. Fleet-capable prototypes could be introduced as early as 2019.

The hull is made up of six carbon fiber composite pieces. Fleet-capable prototypes could be introduced as early as 2019. 

ORNL and the Navy saw this is as an opportunity to bring together their resources and expertise in a partnership with the potential to revolutionize manufacturing in the defense sector. Not only can the Navy find new ways to reduce traditional costs associated with manufacturing, but the lessons learned from this project will help ORNL further explore 3D printing applications in the boating industry, aerospace, buildings, and anything that requires a large, resilient structure. Partnerships like these help drive economic growth and reinforce our national security.

Partners in the project included Oak Ridge National Laboratory; Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division’s Disruptive Technology Laboratory; Picatinny Arsenal;  Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; Naval Air Systems Command; the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory; Naval Surface Warfare Centers from Crane, Panama City, and Philadelphia; Naval Undersea Warfare Center Newport; and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.