3D printer at Northwestern Polytechnical
University in Shaanxi (photo: Xinhua)
BY SARAH ANDERSON
We do know that China has been developing 3D printers since 2001, particularly for use in their military. The technology is utilized largely for prototyping, molding, repair of small parts, and weapons systems throughout the various branches of the country’s military. Examples we’ve heard about include the C-919, the first large passenger plane from China, which includes designs that were developed with the use of a 3D printer, including the front windshield frame. Additionally, the J-15 carrier-based fighter jet used 3D printing to create new small parts（only small parts？）to repair training flight damages, according to Sun Cong, who designed the fighter. Other aircraft also benefit from the fast-growing technology in China, including other fighter jets like the J-16 and J-31, as well as the J-20 stealth fighter.
Today, we also learn that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy is utilizing 3D printers on their warships. The deployed 3D printers will be used to replace crucial small parts, and one destroyer has already taken advantage of the technology.
Last week, a wheel gear on the Harbin broke. The New Year’s Eve incident occurred in the Gulf of Aden, where the Harbin has been involved in counterpiracy maneuvers alongside the US Navy since mid-2013. The Harbin is a destroyer; having the engine down in the far-off Arabian Sea, thousands of miles from parts suppliers in the ship’s home country, was a problem that required a fast solution.
The Harbin includes a compartment that houses a computer, 3D printer, casting equipment, and materials – the massive ship is fully equipped to create its own spare parts. With the breaking of the engine bearing, the Harbin was effectively stranded in an area known for its piracy problem – not exactly an ideal situation. Through use of the on-board 3D printer, though, sailors were able to create the replacement part in mere hours, getting the Harbin up and running and back to maneuvers. A Chinese military expert noted to the China Global Times that the use of 3D printing produces parts that, while not the most precisely crafted, save significant time and money during PLA Navy operations.
The Destroyer Harbin
In addition to the Harbin, we’ve also heard that another PLA Navy ship used 3D printing to replace a transmission gear tooth; it seems China’s military is recognizing and implementing 3D printing for repair jobs in an increasing way.
Other militaries around the world — including the US Navy — are also using 3D printing for on-ship repairs and other parts creations. It looks like this convenient technology is here to stay. Do you agree? What other uses do you foresee in military applications? Let us know your thoughts over at the Chinese Navy Repairs Destroyer with 3D Printing forum thread at 3DPB.com.
PLA Navy Deploys 3D Printers Onboard Warships to Replace Small Parts - 3DPrint.com
3D printers keeping China's navy shipshape
Zhao Lei China Daily/Asia News Network
The People's Liberation Army navy has begun to adopt cutting-edge additive manufacturing technology, commonly known as 3D printing, on its ships, according to PLA Daily.
One of the transmission gears on a navy destroyer broke suddenly when the vessel was anchoring at its home port after an operation at sea in the past week. The part was repaired using a 3D printer on board the ship, the report said.
"We have benefited from the use of 3D printing technology," Ren Yalun, an officer in the ship's mechanical and electrical section, told PLA Daily.
"The 3D printer is like a miniature processing and manufacturing workshop that is able to quickly mend or produce parts－even nonstandard components."
Additive manufacturing is a process in which three-dimensional objects are made through the layering of material. The technology is advancing rapidly and is increasingly used in the manufacturing sector.
The PLA has approved the application of 3D printing technology and plans to promote it in the military's equipment support system, the newspaper cited Xu Binshi, a senior PLA expert on equipment repair, as saying.
The PLA Academy of Armored Forces Engineering, where Xu works, has developed a specialised 3D printer that can make most metal parts of an armored vehicle or tank.
It can "print" a part at a speed of up to 100 grams per second, but precision components such as gun barrels are still beyond its capability.
Zhang Junshe, a senior researcher from the PLA Naval Military Studies Research Institute, told China Daily, "As far as I know, the 3D printer is still in the trial stage for the navy.
"It has bright prospects, but whether it can be quickly promoted to all units will depend on its cost."
Navy ships carry many small replacement parts with them on voyages to repair minor damage or fix malfunctions, but they have to return to the home port or shipyard if serious problems occur, Zhang said.
In December, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp announced that its scientists had produced a special 3D printer for use by astronauts on space missions.
The machine is capable of printing optical lens brackets used in spacecraft-borne equipment, complicated components used in testing a nuclear power apparatus, impellers used in aircraft research and special-shaped gears used in automobile engines, said Wang Lianfeng, a senior engineer at the company's Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology.
Year 2012（note the landing gear，among other things）