The USS Harry S. Truman had only been out to sea for a few weeks when a small group of sailors solved one of the most frustrating problems aboard the aircraft carrier.
The plastic housing in handheld radio headset adapters were constantly breaking. The only way to replace them was to order a whole new $617 adapter, which would have to be flown to the ship.
Armed with a 3-D printer and just a few days of training on it, the ship's maintenance department decided to design and print their own solution. The sailors created a small plastic piece that holds the cracked adapter to the radio by a recessed hole for its antenna.
The TruClip, as the sailors call it, was an instant hit.
The Navy says the crew's design extended the longevity of its adapters and has saved the ship more than $42,000 over the past seven months while it's been deployed to Europe and the Middle East. And because the design can be transferred electronically, it can be used by any other ship or command that has a 3-D printer.
But the crew's design hasn't been used just on this world. On June 21, the file was sent to the International Space Station.
"It's crazy to see how a small idea that we had here to help out our fellow shipmates in this everyday problem is now being printed on the space station," said Lt. Casey Staidl, the Truman's general support equipment division officer and 3-D printer division officer. "That alone is a true, remarkable feat for our sailors and a good reward for them."
The Navy plans to be aggressive with its use of 3-D printing, which could speed up delivery for some parts by months, create parts that never existed and save money. Ultimately, officials would like to see 3-D printers forward deployed with Marines and installed on warships and at shore-based commands.
The Truman is the first aircraft carrier to have a 3-D printer. A handful of sailors were given two days to learn how to use the equipment before shipping out of Norfolk in November. They were told to find problems to solve, and that's what they have done.
In addition to the TruClip, they've created funnels for oil cans, deck drain covers and an adapter to connect an anesthesiologists' waste gas machine, among other things.
As the use of 3-D printers spreads throughout the Navy, Staidl said the key to innovation is soliciting ideas from the crew.
"Best advice is to keep plugging away at your shipmates and to keep asking them for ideas," he said. "What's bothering you? What kind of roadblock have you hit? The more ideas you get, the better. You have to be real proactive. ... You have to keep the word spread throughout your ship. The more people involved, the better ideas you get."