The Navy deploys its first on-board metal 3D printer

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Xerox ElemX 3D metal printer installed on USS Essex (LHD 2)

Xerox says an ElemX liquid metal printer was recently installed aboard the USS Essex (LHD 2) is the first metal additive manufacturing machine to be deployed on a US Navy ship.

The Xerox ElemX was placed on the ship earlier this month in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and sea trials begin immediately. The installation is the latest step in the US Navy’s strategy to use additive manufacturing (AM) to increase fleet operational readiness. It also builds on the relationship between the US Navy and Xerox Elem Additive that began with the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) in Monterey, California receiving the first-ever installation of the ElemX in 2020.

“The military supply chain is one of the most complex in the world and putting the ElemX on USS Essex means sailors can now circumvent this complexity and print parts when and where they need them,” said Tali Rosman, Managing Director of Elem Additive. “We are proud to continue our partnership with the Navy to help them advance their additive manufacturing capabilities and implement their long-term vision.”

The ElemX takes advantage of Xerox’s liquid metal AM technology which uses standard aluminum wire. There are no metal powders with ElemX and no special plant modifications or personal protective equipment required to operate the machine. The printer also requires minimal post-processing and therefore offers a faster turnaround time. This ability to produce reliable spare parts on demand reduces reliance on complex global supply chains for deployed forces.

To withstand the different sea states and environmental challenges faced by warships, the ElemX was installed in an industrial shipping container to make it more robust. Trials have already begun on board Essex to establish operational guidelines and technical feasibility studies to determine applications and use cases. A team aboard USS Essex will design and print shipboard items and provide feedback to the NPS and Commander Naval Surface Force Pacific (COMNAVSURPAC).

The ElemX 3D printer was released in February 2021, and since then Elem Additive Solutions has expanded its operations, including opening an Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence in Cary, North Carolina.