The U.S. Navy recently unveiled the military's first 3D-printed submarine hull. Printed on the Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) machine at Oak Ridge National Laboratory's (ORNL) Manufacturing Demonstration Facility, the Optionally Manned Technology Demonstrator is modeled after the SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV). SDVs are manned submersibles that are used to take Navy SEALs and their equipment on special operations missions. The BAAM has been used for many notable 3D printing projects, including the world's first 3D-printed car, as well as ORNL's 3D-printed Shelby Cobra.
The hull is 30 feet long, and made of six carbon fiber composite sections. The project only took four weeks to complete, and the proof-of-concept also cut production costs by 90%.
According to the Department of Energy, a traditional SEAL Delivery Vehicle costs between $600,000 and $800,000, and it takes three to five months to manufacture. So, that means that they made this sub for as low as $60,000 and it was printed in a number of days — total development time took four weeks, but it only took a few days to print the six sections.
Next, the team plans to build a second iteration of the hull. This one will be water-tight and undergo wave pool testing at an elite testing facility in Maryland.
The timeline sounds aggressive, but Oak Ridge and the Navy believe that they could have fleet-capable prototypes could be available as early as 2019.