Pacific Fleet Seabees Aid COVID-19 Efforts Using 3-D Printing Technology

Story by Petty Officer 1st Class Heather Salzman, Naval Construction Group ONE

Seabees assigned to Naval Construction Group (NCG) 1, Naval Mobile Construction Battalions (NMCB) 3 and 4 along with Naval Facilities Engineering Command Expeditionary Warfare Center (NAVFAC EXWC) launched the first large-scale, 3-D printing operation in support of COVID-19 response and relief efforts on Naval Base Ventura County, California, April 13.

Builder Constructionman Taliyah Hassell, from Memphis, Tenn., assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 4, removes face mask frames from a 3-D printer on Naval Base Ventura County, Port Hueneme. (Photo Michael Lopez)

The Navy’s release of NAVADMIN 098/20 provided guidance for Navy organizations with Additive Manufacturing (AM) or 3-D printing technology to begin producing personal protective equipment. NAVFAC EXWC, in collaboration with NCG-1, worked to develop a workable plan to produce face mask kits on a large scale.

“Naval Construction Group 1 has been working with NAVFAC EXWC to utilize additive manufacturing for our expeditionary construction operations through our newly established fabrication lab,” said Capt. David McAlister, Commodore, NCG-1. “When it became clear that there was a need for COVID-19 response, prevention, and mitigation items, we immediately shifted operations to validate new pattern designs and produce critical parts in order to protect our force and mitigate COVID risks to our personnel.”

Developing a workable face mask is complicated, so a team of Seabee engineers executed a “proof of concept,” printing 14 masks using on-site technology and 3-D printers in order to test their capabilities. The final design is user friendly and has the ability to “heat mold” to individual face contours using hot water or a hair dryer.

“It feels good to help out here and contribute to creating masks for people who need it and to help out our fellow service members,” said Construction Mechanic 3rd Class Alexander Hamner, assigned to NMCB-3. “Doing our part to flatten the curve, that’s what is important right now.”

Builder Constructionman Thomas Mullaney, from Frederick, Md., assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 4, cuts fabric for 3-D-printed face masks on Naval Base Ventura County, Port Hueneme. (Photo Michael Lopez)

On April 2 NAVFAC EXWC, lead for the AM efforts, coordinated with NCG-1 to set up a fabricating laboratory that could house and execute requirements needed in COVID-19 relief and support. The personal protective equipment (PPE) factory now sits in the center of one of NCG-1’s main training facilities which previously held office spaces for combat instructors.

Working around-the-clock, a team of Sailors are operating twelve 3-D printers capable of producing six full face mask kits per machine every 20 minutes. Each kit includes: the 3-D printed mask frame, four rubber bands, a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) 13 filter patch, cloth patch and Ziploc bag. Each mask can be printed in a small, medium or large size.

A 3-D printer prints face mask frames on Naval Base Ventura County, Port Hueneme. Personnel assigned to Naval Facilities Engineering and Expeditionary Warfare Center, Naval Construction Group 1, NMCB-3 and NMCB-4 are creating 3-D-printed face masks to support the hospital ship USNS Mercy’s (T-AH 19) COVID-19 relief efforts. (Photo Michael Lopez)

The safety and well-being of all personnel involved is top priority. Sailors maintain strict social distancing requirements and equipment and products are sanitized at multiple points during manufacture and assembly. A quality control member inspects the finalized kits to ensure all masks meet safety requirements.
The goal of the operation is to provide an alternative supply of face coverings to service members, required by NAVADMIN 100/20.

“The Naval Construction Force is excited and honored to provide this support the Fleet,” said McAlister.

With Seabee units deployed during the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring that they can create their own PPE has proven to be extremely beneficial, not only to the Naval Construction Force and the U.S. Navy, but to the recipients of these masks as well.

NAVFAC EXWC was established in September 2012 as NAVFAC’s premier warfare center, employing a workforce of more than 1,000 Sailors, government civilians and contractors who provide specialized facilities engineering, technology solutions, and lifecycle management of expeditionary equipment to the Navy, Marine Corps, federal agencies, and other Department of Defense supported commands.

Seabees assigned to Naval Construction Group (NCG) 1, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 4 and NMCB-3 make 3-D-printed face masks on Naval Base Ventura County, Port Hueneme. (Photo Michael Lopez)

NMCB-3 and NMCB-4 are based in Port Hueneme, California and provide general engineering, disaster relief, humanitarian assistance and civil support to the Navy, Marine Corps, and joint operational forces through planned deployments and contingency response.

NCG-1 is based out of Port Hueneme, California and prepares Pacific Fleet Naval Construction Force (NCF) units to conduct expeditionary and deliberate construction in support of Combatant Commanders and warfighter requirements. They do this through combat and construction training, equipment and maintenance training, and logistical and mobilization support of our subordinate units. NCG-1 exercises administrative control over the 1st and 30th Naval Construction Regiments, Naval Mobile Construction Battalions (NMCBs) 3, 4, 5, 18, 22, 25, as well as Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit 303, and Underwater Construction Team 2. In all, NCG 1 includes 10 subordinate units and totals about 4,700 personnel.

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