3D printing Navy parts
A look at parts created by a 3-D printer. (CREDIT: MCSN Jonathan B. Trejo / Navy)

A small part breaks on a ship. There are no replacements on board. Then a sailor walks over to a 3D printer and has the part created in a matter of minutes.

The U.S. Navy wants to make 3D printing at sea a reality, according to a report from the Navy Times.

Officials are sold on the concept and are asking sailors for lists of high-demand items to be made from plastic, with the aim to have 3-D printers able to manufacture from metal and other materials like industry. The hope is that one day a ship crew will be able to manufacture complex parts from the middle of the ocean.

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“A lot of times, it’s not the $100,000 part that really drives you crazy because those are in the stock system,” Capt. Jim Loper, who heads the concepts and innovation department at Navy Warfare Development Command, told the Navy Times. “It is the $1 little plastic part that really drives you crazy.”

The Navy technology centers on refrigerator-sized printers that layer thin polycarbonate plastic following a 3-D blueprint to create a part. In the fleet testing over the past year, sailors and civilians have used commercial programs to create 3-D renderings of items, even designing new or modified items that can be tested at a relatively low cost.

Goals are currently being establishing to implement the technology into the Navy.

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