According to a recent blog published by the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Navy’s Disruptive Technology Lab and the team at ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) have created the military’s first 3D-printed submarine hull. Known as the Optionally Manned Technology Demonstrator, the hull is inspired by the Navy’s submersible SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV).

SDVs are typically used to transport United States Navy SEALs and their equipment to special operations missions. In the future, these vehicles will need to be manufactured faster and incorporate new designs to support each Navy mission.

The 30-foot proof-of-concept hull was created using the same technology ORNL has used to create its 3-D printed 1965 Shelby Cobra replica as well as the largest solid 3-D printed item in the world – a trim-and-drill tool for the Boeing 777X. The technology, Cincinnati Inc.’s Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM), can 3-D large-scale products up to 10 times larger than currently producible. It also works at speeds 200 to 500 times faster than any existing additive machine. The submarine hull is made up of six carbon fiber composite pieces printed with BAAM.

The DOE says the cost of a traditional SDV hull ranges from $600,000 to $800,000 and typically takes 3-5 months to manufacture. Using BAAM reduced hull production costs by 90 percent and shortened production time to a matter of days—giving the Navy the opportunity to create “on demand” vehicles while also saving time, money, and energy.

The next phase of the project is to create a second, water-tight version of the hull that will be tested in the wave pool at Carderock—an elite testing facility that mimics the most compromising conditions that ships and submarines could encounter in the open ocean. According to the DOE blog, fleet-capable prototypes could be introduced as early as 2019.