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Orono, Maine — The University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center has taken a revolutionary step in composite manufacturing with the production of two prototype 3D-printed logistics vessels for the US Department of Defense.

Marine Corps Systems Command’s Advanced Manufacturing Operations Cell (AMOC), in conjunction with the UMaine Composites Center, used advanced manufacturing techniques to successfully develop the expendable polymer composite ship-shore vessels. The longer of the two ships, the largest ever 3D printed, simulates ship-to-shore movement of 20-foot containers representing equipment and supplies. The second ship can carry a squad of marines with organic material and three days of supplies. Prototypes can be connected, maximizing the carrying capacity of a single tow vehicle.

Ship-to-shore logistics vessels align with the vision of the 38th Commandant of the Marine Corps, General David Berger, to “seek the affordable and the abundant at the expense of the exquisite and the few when design of the future amphibious part of the fleet”, due to relatively low cost, speed and ease of production.

“Our national security and our economic security depend on an innovative and robust American manufacturing base,” said Barbara K. McQuiston, Director of Defense Research and Engineering for Research and Technology, Office of the Secretary of Defense. “I applaud the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine for their pioneering work in the field of additive manufacturing. Progress made here will strengthen domestic manufacturing and ultimately support our fighters on the ground.

Joining McQuiston for the Feb. 25 unveiling at the UMaine Composites Center were U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King, U.S. Department of Defense leadership and University of Maine officials.

“In 2019, UMaine unveiled the world’s largest 3D printed object – a 25ft patrol boat. Today we celebrated the creation of 3D printed ships that will be more than twice as large and represent the next leap remarkable in the innovation of UMaine”, said Senators Susan Collins and Angus King and Rep. Jared Golden. “This achievement is a great example of how UMaine is leading the nation in large-scale additive manufacturing technology. These new boats continue the Composite Center’s contributions to our national defense and will help fuel new breakthroughs in advanced manufacturing that will create good jobs here in Maine.

Using traditional materials and methods, Landing Craft Utility Vessels can take over a year to produce. The UMaine Composites Center printed and assembled one of the two ships in a month. The ships were produced using the world’s largest polymer 3D printer, which the center commissioned on October 10, 2019, win three Guinness World Records.

To demonstrate the printer’s capabilities, the Composites Center 3D printed a 5,000-pound boat, 3Dirigo, in 72 hours, and printed a US Army communications shelter in 48 hours. The printer, with precise additive and subtractive manufacturing capabilities, enables rapid prototyping for military and civilian applications.

“This project demonstrates the art of the possible and the potential of AM to fundamentally change the way we think about connectors and their role in mobility and distribution in a contested environment,” said Lt. Gen. Edward Banta, Deputy Commandant – Installation and Logistics, US Marine Corps.

“As the Marine Corps seeks to modernize logistics to better respond to current and future conflicts, advances in additive manufacturing will allow us to remain agile, lethal and expeditionary,” said William Williford, executive director of Marine Corps Systems Command.

The latest project to create the two 3D-printed logistics vessels is an important step toward demonstrating advanced manufacturing techniques to rapidly build critical DOD assets closer to the point of need. The previously successful prototype was 3D printed in 2020, made of 25% aluminum. Vessels manufactured by the UMaine Composites Center are multi-material composites with engineered polymer and fibrous reinforcement.

“The University of Maine is at the forefront of cutting-edge research and high-impact technologies, including advanced manufacturing, AI, and 3D printing important to industries in Maine and beyond,” said University of Maine system chancellor Dannel Malloy. “These prototype ships are the latest innovations from the Composites Center that demonstrate the future of manufacturing. It’s an exciting time for Maine’s Carnegie R1 research firm. Congratulations to the talented group of faculty, staff and students for this milestone achievement.

“The leadership, vision and innovation of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center continue to make a difference in Maine and around the world,” said UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy, vice chancellor for research and system innovation at the University of Maine. “The center’s research and development capability in collaboration with partners in Maine and beyond, its problem-solving abilities, and its focus on workforce development are an important part of our research institution. leading Carnegie R1.”

“Two years ago, we demonstrated that it was possible to 3D print a 25-foot patrol boat in three days. Since then, in partnership with the DOD, we’ve improved material properties, sped up the printing process, and connected our printer to high-performance computers that can monitor printing. With these tools in place we have now printed a prototype ship which will be tested by the US Marine Corps (USMC). The Advanced Structures and Composites Center is at the forefront of advanced manufacturing research and development, advancing breakthrough technologies such as large-scale additive manufacturing and high-performance computing to develop practical, rapidly deployable and cost-effective solutions for military and civilian applications, said Habib Dagher, executive director of the UMaine Composites Center. “We thank our partners at the DOD, USMC, US Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), and our Congressional delegation for their continued support. Today’s groundbreaking achievement would not have been possible without the tremendous efforts of our dedicated team of 260 CCSA researchers, staff and students.

“These demonstration vessels represent a first step towards defining future advanced manufacturing capabilities, as well as balancing consumable system cost, performance and ease of manufacturing,” said Kyle Warren, senior program manager for UMaine and the project’s principal investigator.

The Advanced Structures and Composites Center is a world-leading interdisciplinary center for research, education, and economic development, encompassing materials science, advanced manufacturing, and composites and structural engineering. Housed in a 100,000 square foot ISO-17025 accredited facility, the center has been recognized nationally and internationally for its cutting-edge research programs leading and impacting new industries, including offshore wind and marine energy, civil infrastructures, biobased composites, large scale 3D printing, soldier protection systems and innovative defense applications.

The Marine Corps AMOC, established in 2019, conducts testing, experimentation, and analysis to find innovative techniques and take advantage of advanced manufacturing technologies. The AMOC also provides 24/7 3D printing support for the Fleet Marine Force and all Equipment Program offices.