The Navy recently installed a 3D printer on board the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship Essex, stationed at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, in Hawaii, to help test the new printing technology out at sea.

The Naval Postgraduate School, which led the research effort on the technology, helped to install the printer on the Essex and run diagnostic tests on July 8 and July 9 in the midst of the Navy’s Rim of the Pacific exercise, according to a Navy press release.

The installation of the 3D printer on the Essex offers a new approach for the service to fulfill its demand for needed supplies as the other services remain on their own paths to fully leveraging 3D printing technology.

During its testing and evaluation at sea, the new printer, capable of fabricating and printing aluminum, will produce various shipboard items.

“Having this printer aboard will essentially accelerate, enhance and increase our warfighting readiness,” Lt. Cmdr. Nicolas Batista, the Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department officer aboard the Essex, said in a statement.

“The capabilities of the 3D printer will enable Essex to become more self-sufficient,” Batista said, adding that commonly needed components like fuel adapters, bleed air valves, valve covers and more may now be created on the ship.

The Naval Postgraduate School worked with the printing company Xerox to receive its own 3D printer around the same time the Department of Defense released its first additive manufacturing strategy, better known as 3D printing, in January 2021.

Professors Garth Hobson and Emre Gunduz from the Naval Postgraduate School are helping to lead the school’s work on additive manufacturing, including through a consortium for research and education.

They shared in an interview with Military Times that while the machines currently only produce a specific aluminum alloy, they are working to expand that. Within the next year they are also looking to establish a certificate program on additive manufacturing for service members and civilians at DoD to learn about the increasingly prominent technology.

The Navy also previously worked with a 3D printer on the Essex back in 2014, according to Breaking Defense.

The 3D printing is nothing new, however, to the Navy or other services.

Earlier in 2022 the Navy discussed pairing suppliers with additive manufacturing companies to boost available parts.

In May, the Air Force invested in its own 3D printer to produce spare parts for its Strategic Automated Command Control System and the Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command began a project to 3D print everything “from food to shelter to weapons.” Even the White House discussed the importance of additive manufacturing this past May towards improving supply chain issues in the military and beyond.

With the printer now installed on the Essex, sailors on board must be trained in how to properly use the equipment.

Aviation Structural Mechanic 3rd Class Roxanne Barrera said, “I was honored when my chain of command asked me to be the first Sailor aboard USS Essex to get the training for this 3D printer. I just want to learn how to operate it and share [the knowledge] with other people.”

Batista stated that the commander of the Naval Air Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, and the commander of the Naval Air Systems Command also have begun efforts to establish a work center solely designed for the 3D printing concept.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to note the Essex had a 3D printer in 2014.

Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media

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