Feature   Defense News

Naval Information Warfare Center Atlantic 3-D Prints Protective Equipment

July 8, 2020 | BY Heather Rutherford

As the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe, Naval Information Warfare Center Atlantic shifted into high gear to support relief efforts.

A woman wearing a mask places personal protective equipment into a plastic bag as a man in the background works at a 3D printer.
PPE Packing
Naval Information Warfare Center Atlantic team members support COVID-19 relief efforts through their work at an on-demand manufacturing lab in Charleston, S.C., June 22, 2020. The Production Quality and Manufacturing team used 3D printing to design personal protective equipment for NIWC Atlantic personnel across the United States and abroad.
Photo By: Joseph Bullinger, Navy
VIRIN: 200622-N-GB257-001

In the on-demand manufacturing lab in Charleston, South Carolina, the Production Quality and Manufacturing team rapidly got to work making personal protective equipment for NIWC Atlantic personnel across the United States and abroad.

Locating a face mask design approved by both the National Institutes of Health and the Navy was the first obstacle the team had to overcome. After determining the design, the production team then found themselves faced with the difficult task of sourcing filter material to support mask kits.

With bulk filter material initially unavailable, the team procured pleated media heating ventilation and air conditioning filters and painstakingly began to remove both cardboard packaging and retention wiring from more than 100 square household filters to cut filter material for face mask use.

A man wearing a mask uses a spatula-type tool to collect 3D-printed personal protective equipment parts.
Parts Collecting
Naval Information Warfare Center Atlantic team members support COVID-19 relief efforts through their work at an on-demand manufacturing lab in Charleston, S.C., June 22, 2020. The Production Quality and Manufacturing team used 3D printing to design personal protective equipment for NIWC Atlantic personnel across the United States and abroad.
Photo By: Joseph Bullinger, Navy
VIRIN: 200622-N-GB257-002

However, the challenges did not end there. When it came time to make face shields, the team discovered a serious lack of commercially available PETG — polyethylene terephthalate glycol, commonly used in 3D printing.

Fortunately, this issue was resolved by working across organizational lines, via connections provided by the deputy assistant secretary of the Navy and the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations COVID-19 response working group. The PQM team collaborated with Marine Corps Logistics Command to get 300 spare face shields shipped to NIWC Atlantic at no cost to support face shield production and assembly.

"It's been an incredible teaming effort across multiple competencies and DOD organizations to provide these critical items to our workforce at a time when industry was unable to support demand," said Aaron Ross, the deputy senior manager of the Production, Quality and Manufacturing Engineering team.

A woman wearing a mask puts 3D-printed personal protective equipment components into plastic bags.
PPE Packing
Naval Information Warfare Center Atlantic team members support COVID-19 relief efforts through their work at an on-demand manufacturing lab in Charleston, S.C., June 22, 2020. The Production Quality and Manufacturing team used 3D printing to design personal protective equipment for NIWC Atlantic personnel across the United States and abroad.
Photo By: Joseph Bullinger, Navy
VIRIN: 200622-N-GB257-003

As of June 1, the PQM team — composed of engineers, technicians, administrative specialists and members of NIWC Atlantic's New Professionals Program — has printed and assembled 1,444 face masks and 110 face shields that are being distributed to NIWC Atlantic’s mission-essential employees around the world.

As a part of Naval Information Warfare Systems Command, NIWC Atlantic provides systems engineering and acquisition to deliver information warfare capabilities to the naval, joint and national warfighter through the acquisition, development, integration, production, test, deployment and sustainment of interoperable command, control, communications, computer, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, cyber and information technology capabilities.

(Heather Rutherford is assigned to Naval Information Warfare Systems Command.)