The U.S. Navy explored fleet applications of additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, into naval weapons systems at the 2015 Naval Additive Manufacturing Technical Interchange (NAMTI) meeting at the Carderock Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center from April 28 to 30.

Hundreds of participants, including engineers, scientists, acquisition professionals and 3D printing experts, discussed naval applications of additive manufacturing for bio-printing, self-sustaining ships and energetics, such as military weapons.

"This is not as far off as you think," said Vice Admiral Philip Cullom, deputy chief of Naval Operations for Fleet Readiness and Logistics. "Soon there will be no physical tether to the supply chain. People thought the same about the early days of nuclear power."

Participating in the Additive Manufacturing Executive panel to discuss their vision and plans for 3D printing were Dr. Thomas Killion, acting director of technology, Office of Naval Research; Vice Adm. David Dunaway, commander, Naval Air Systems Command; and Rear Admiral Bryant Fuller, deputy commander, Ship Design, Integration and Naval Engineering, Naval Sea Systems Command.

The panel agreed the Navy needs to identify promising applications and make progress on how it incorporates additive manufacturing into production and sustainment processes.

Fuller asked participants to research the "judiciousness management of risk" for both physical and digital, while continuing "engineering expertise and technical excellence."

The panelists encouraged the group to continue their collaboration as they move forward.

The U.S. Navy reports five ways it has used 3D printing technology successfully:

1. Save money and time. Norfolk Naval Shipyard's Rapid Prototype Lab is saving the Navy thousands of dollars by printing cheaper plastic polymer models of aircraft carrier ship alterations in hours, rather than days or weeks for traditional wood or metal mockups.

2. Innovative. The Navy's Fleet Readiness Center Southeast used the technology to develop an improved hydraulic intake manifold for the V-22 Osprey. The new manifold is 70 percent lighter, improves fluid flow and has less leak points.

3. Customizable. By customizing 3D printed parts, the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center produces medical items, including tailor-made cranial plate implants, surgical guides and medical tooling.

4. Overcoming obsolescence. Naval Undersea Warfare Center-Keyport used additive manufacturing to create a supply of replacement circuit card clips for J-6000 Tactical Support System Servers onboard nuclear-powered guided-missile submarines to keep the Fleet ready.

5. Increase fleet readiness. A 3D printer was installed by the Chief of Naval Operations aboard the USS Essex this year. The 3D printer developed and printed several shipboard items, like oil reservoir caps and deck drain, as well as tools and training aid covers.