Lt. Gen. Edward Banta, the U.S. Marine Corps’ Deputy Commandant for Installation and Logistics, speaks at the unveiling of two new 3D-printed boats made at the University of Maine's Advanced Structures and Composites Center as part of a Department of Defense initiative. Credit: Courtesy of the University of Maine

The University of Maine unveiled the largest boat made by a 3D printer on Friday, and a Marine Corps official said the military branch plans to test the vessel for its war-fighting capabilities.

UMaine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center pulled back the curtain on two new 3D-printed vessels Friday that it’s been working on in partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense and the Marine Corps. The boats could be used for other purposes but were designed as an option for the U.S. military to consider as it looks to diversify its arsenal. 

The two vessels — made with the world’s largest 3D printer, which is located at the composites center — can transport two shipping containers and a squad of Marines with up to three days of supplies. 

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said the U.S.Navy has just shy of 300 vessels but should have about 500. These new boats from UMaine could offer a way to add to the Navy’s fleet to meet that goal, she said.

“You can’t see it because of my mask, but I have a huge smile on my face because every time I visit this lab, it gets bigger, better, and more impressive,” Collins said during a Friday event to unveil the vessels.  

The new vessels come three years after the composites center unveiled a 25-foot patrol boat that at the time broke the record for the world’s largest 3D-printed object. But one of the boats unveiled Friday is longer, again breaking that record.

The boats are in pieces and connected by steel to make one solid object, allowing for easy assembly and disassembly when needed. They are composed of several rectangular sections and on either end are hulls shaped like triangles. The two boats can be connected to make one larger vessel.

Because the boats belong to the Department of Defense, no photos of the vessels were allowed. 

The boats will be taken to California next month to be tested in the Pacific Ocean, where they are likely to be used, said Lt. Gen. Edward Banta, the Marine Corps’ Deputy Commandant for Installation and Logistics. 

“Frankly, this is about war-fighting — war-fighting for the Marine Corps,” Banta said.

The teams at the composites center have picked up more knowledge about how 3D printing can be used with every new project, said Habib Dagher, the center’s executive director. 

One option is to use the technology to produce housing, he said.

“Of course, a house is not a boat, but learning how to build a boat allows you to learn how to build a home,” Dagher said. “The technologies we are developing for the DOD also leave us so many opportunities to use in the civilian world.”

For the military, the benefits to the 3D-printed boats are the speed with which they can be created and their relatively low cost, Sen. Angus King said. In addition, he said, the technology can make the military more easily adaptable to changing situations.

“One of the challenges for the military is readiness,” King said. “What we’re talking about today holds enormous promise in solving this problem.”

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Sawyer Loftus

Sawyer Loftus is an investigative reporter at the Bangor Daily News. A graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he worked for Vermont Public Radio, The Burlington Free Press...