3 ways the Royal Netherlands Navy is using INTAMSYS 3D printers in 2022
For the last two years, the Royal Netherlands Navy has had a secret weapon in its arsenal. Not a missile, not heavy artillery, but containerized 3D printers including INTAMSYS systems, capable of printing spare and replacement parts on demand.
The game-changing 3D printing initiative is handled by a specialist additive manufacturing team from the Directie Materiële Instandhouding, a department of the Navy responsible for the maintenance of ships, submarines, and other systems. In early 2021, the DMI unveiled an additive manufacturing mobile repair center housed within a shipping container. Robust and mobile, the container could be moved from ship to ship and contained, among other vital tools, one INTAMSYS FUNMAT PRO 410 3D printer.
This year, the Navy has revealed how it continues to use INTAMSYS printers for a variety of tasks, printing replacement parts in high-performance materials like PEKK-CF. This article looks at three ways the Dutch Navy deployed the FFF 3D printers to support on-land troops during a mission in Suriname.
Most consumer-level FFF 3D printers cannot print brackets capable of supporting exceptionally heavy weights. Common filaments like PLA and ABS are durable enough for prototypes and low-impact applications, but it takes a much stronger material to guarantee high performance even in the heat and humidity of Suriname.
During the military exercice in South America, crew members needed brackets to support a 20 kg signal amplifier so it could be mounted near the top of a 25-meter pole. Doing so would reduce the need to use long cables and consequently boost the signal of the antenna on top of the pole. Since the crew didn’t have brackets with them, they used an INTAMSYS printer to make some from PEKK-CF, a high-performance material that requires a high-temperature PEEK 3D printer with extrusion temperatures of at least 350 °C. Weaker materials could buckle under heavy weight and would not be safe to use.
A naval ship or submarine contains a huge number of valves for regulating pressure and fluid flow. Such valves control the flow of fresh water, ballast water, and liquid for hydraulic systems, among other things. Valves have wheels that allow them to be manually adjusted, and these valve wheels are regularly removed for cleaning and maintenance. However, they sometimes break or get lost, which means ships must carry spares.
Because there are so many different types and sizes of valve wheels, DMI workers have been using their INTAMSYS 3D printers to fabricate wheels on demand rather than carrying a huge number of prefabricated aluminum/steel spares on board. Valve wheels printed in high-strength materials like PEKK-CF do not overheat and can last a long time; some are even installed permanently.
Ships and machines aren’t the only things that require maintenance on long missions. Crew members can suffer minor and major injuries in the field, and ships aren’t always within reach of a medical center.
The DMI’s additive specialists have been working with the Radboud University Medical Center (part of the Radboud University Nijmegen) on a research project for developing custom orthotics. Using a mobile 3D scanning application developed by Belgian company Spentys, technicians can design and 3D print custom-fit orthotics to treat minor injuries. A variety of materials can be used, including PEKK, ABS, and PP, and the tightness of the devices can be altered over time with adjustable straps as the injury heals.
The printers making waves with the Navy
The three high-temperature INTAMSYS 3D printers currently used by the Royal Netherlands Navy are two FUNMAT PRO 410 and one FUNMAT HT. So why these machines, and how do they differ?
Both printers offer high-temperature printing — with a maximum extrusion temperature of 450 °C — for extruding materials like PEEK and PEKK. But there are two key differences between the premium PRO 410 and the more affordable HT: the first is the massive 37.7-liter build volume of the PRO 410 (17.58 liters on the HT); the second is the dual extruders of the larger machine, enabling the printing of breakaway support structures and more complex geometries.
Having both types of machines allows the crew to use the HT for smaller parts and keep the PRO 410s available for larger parts and fuller batches. Since the DMI first deployed these machines, INTAMSYS has launched the even larger FUNMAT PRO 610HT and the desktop-sized FUNMAT PRO 310, which could also be used in military applications.