3-D Printed Tool Brings Cost-Savings, Innovation to Norfolk Naval Shipyard

May 26, 2017 – Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) personnel have created a three-dimensional (3D) tie bolt anti-rotation tool for use on a variety of components aboard naval vessels, Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) announced, May 25.

A tie bolt is a long rod with threading at each end used to connect two or more parts of a structure, frame or truss, and resist tension. Tie bolts are frequently used aboard ships and submarines to hold frames and components in place.

“Our department has typically used a single tool for jobs involving the tie bolts. It’s like a set of pliers with metal welded on to stop the tie bolts from rotating,” said NNSY Lifting and Handling Specialist Jonathan Woodruff. “Though the tool did the job, it was a difficult process to use and resulted in some fumbling around with the vice grips. It was a tedious process and with only one tool at our entire shop’s disposal, it was time for a change.”

Once the first printed model was tested, and slight changes were made to the design, the concept was finalized via two-dimensional computer-aided design (CAD) drawings that were then worked into the 3-D model for printing. The shipyard’s Inside Machine Shop printed the tool using a durable polycarbonate material.

The shipyard’s Rapid Prototype Lab, which turns employee ideas for work improvements into tangible products, tested the tool to ensure its effectiveness. The tools were then printed at a cost of around $30 and each build can print up to eight tools at a time.

Since the finalization of the design, the shipyard has ordered 100 new tools to be utilized on the waterfront. There are plans to print more for the yard during future availabilities that come into the yard.

“This was something new for our team, so a lot of people were skeptical before we began testing. But seeing it in action, it was highly effective and not only provided cost-savings, but improved our quality of work life,” said Woodruff. “Our team is fully on board and it’s only just the beginning.”

In keeping with NAVSEA’s commitment to high velocity learning, the NNSY team is looking into ways to share their tool enterprise-wide to ensure a safe and efficient workplace for all who work with tie bolts.

NNSY, a field activity of Naval Sea Systems Command, is the oldest and largest industrial facility belonging to the U.S. Navy, and specializes in repairing, overhauling and modernizing ships and submarines.