US Navy Taps Hunt Valve for First 3D-Printed Submarine Assemblies

Under a new contract issued by the Maritime Sustainment Technology and Innovation Consortium, Hunt Valve and Lincoln Electric will provide the first 3D-printed valve assemblies to be featured on in-service U.S. Navy submarines. (Image: Fairbanks Morse Defense)

The U.S. Navy has awarded its first contract to produce 3D-printed valve assemblies on its fleet of submarines to Hunt Valve, a Fairbanks Morse Defense (FMD) company.

According to an April 3 FMD press release, the contract requires Hunt Valve to partner with Lincoln Electric to create a 70-pound valve assembly that will become the first 3D-printed assembly installed on submarines operated by the U.S. Navy. Hunt Valve was awarded the contract through a U.S. Navy-funded Maritime Sustainment Technology and Innovation Consortium (MSTIC) contract for an undisclosed amount.

Under the contract, Lincoln Electric will use additive manufacturing — or 3D printing — to produce the valve body. Lincoln Electric then sends the 3D-printed valve body to Hunt Valve to manufacture the remaining components using standard manufacturing methods. Hunt Valve then completes the process by integrating all the parts to create the full valve assembly. Hunt Valve claims that the use of 3D-printing will "provide the Navy with a product that meets or exceeds the quality produced through traditional sand-casting in about two-thirds less time."

“The utilization of additive manufacturing assembly with copper-nickel for large valve production is a real step forward for our industry,” said Andrew Pfister, Vice President, Aftermarket and Product Development at Fairbanks Morse Defense. “Not only does it create a superior product in terms of quality, but the process can significantly reduce lead-in times.”

Unlike traditional manufacturing, which removes pieces from a base sheet or block of metal to create a component, additive manufacturing stacks layers of copper-nickel together to create the final product, Hunt Valve notes in the release.

The expanded utilization of additive manufacturing is expected to speed up the production of components for the Navy fleet by up to 75 percent. This makes the process an attractive option for increasing production efficiency and gaining greater control over the defense industrial base supply chain, as foundries would be able to focus on larger components

“Innovative technologies such as additive manufacturing are essential for building the submarine industrial base to overcome supply chain challenges,” Pfister said. “By scaling additive manufacturing, we can reduce shipping from other parts of the world and increase the speed of production at home – which positively impacts the Navy’s overall strategic goal to deliver a 300+ fleet.”

The Hunt Valve contract announcement occurred amid a series of additive manufacturing announcements and milestones for the Navy in April. On April 2, the Naval Post Graduate School held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at its Monterey, California facility to dedicate the new NPS Advanced Manufacturing Center. The new center features 3D metal printers from a "variety of industry partners," according to an NPS announcement. The printers enable multiple different printing technologies such as cold spray, fusion, wire, powder. There is also a 5-axis computer numerically controlled (CNC) milling machine and the availability of different 3D-printing media such as steel, aluminum, copper, nickel and titanium.

The opening of NPS's new center was followed by another new additive manufacturing contract issued to Ursa Major to develop and hot fire test a prototype solid rocket motor (SRM) for the Navy’s Standard Missile (SM) program. Under this contract, Ursa Major will develop a new design and apply the company’s revolutionary manufacturing process to the Navy’s workhorse Mk 104 dual-thrust rocket motor in coordination with the Navy’s Program Executive Office Integrated Warfare Systems 3.0, Naval Air Warfare Center – Weapons Division at China Lake, and the Naval Surface Warfare Center at Indian Head, according to Ursa Major.

Additionally, an official representing the Navy's aviation wing — Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) — gave an update on their latest additive manufacturing efforts during an appearance on an April 8 panel discussion at Sea-Air-Space Expo 2024. Theodore Gronda, Program Manager for the NAVAIR Additive Manufacturing (AM) Team, began his panel discussion by noting that his team was established in order to create parts in small quantities, when needed, to get a grounded aircraft back in service in a faster time than relying on industry partners for supply chain gaps. NAVAIR describes additive manufacturing as the ability to "print an object based on information fed into a device much like a 3D printer."

Gronda said NAVAIR began supporting AM developments by separating them into three tiers. Tier 1 AM printers focus on “Commodity Polymers,” and is responsible for creating non-critical, smaller items such as knobs, clips and caps. Tier 2 AM printers focus on “Industrial Polymers,” including non-critical and critical parts such as tools, covers, brackets and mounts. Tier 3 AM printers are “Industrial Metal” and create non-critical and critical metal parts including valve bodies, gearboxes, fuel and engine components and manifolds.

Currently, there are 96 AM devices deployed to 33 NAVAIR sites, including deployed aircraft carriers.