The vast majority of Australia’s goods come from overseas and the majority via seaborne carriers to shores. The Royal Australian Navy, who employs approximately 15,000 personnel, is deployed across the world in various theatres of operation to defend people’s interests and to act as called upon by the Government in Defence of the nation. Warfare Innovation Navy Branch (WIN) was established to deliver, amongst other things, a culture and practice of innovation within Navy. The Centre for Innovation (CFI) which is part of WIN operates out of an office at Fleet Base East in Sydney. The use of 3D printing concept for Navy was first iterated by one of The Royal Australian Navy teams—Mr. Don Moloney, young mechanical engineer of the year 2019—and socialised by their team to gain the support, coaching and financial backing for the innovative ideas that developed as a result.
In September 2015 the Navy set out to take advantage of, and harness the innovative creativity locked within its workforce. Top down ‘permission to innovate’ on its own was not enough; being a large government organization steeped in hierarchical organisational design, with extensive governance regimes, where the risk of failure has life threatening consequences, the organisation is sometimes hesitant to innovate or take unnecessary risks outside of normal regulatory processes. The challenge was to create an innovation framework that would lead to widespread innovative behaviour as the new norm, concentrating on opportunity whilst maintaining an awareness of risk, by creating a safe place for personnel to experiment, prototype and thereby inculcate innovative activities within normal skill sets.
One of the newest tools to assist personnel with their innovative desires was the use of 3D printing, also known as Additive Manufacturing (AM). Navy established a 3D printing focal point in the CFI and established a development training regime for an initial group of Unit Innovation Coordinators (UIC). This proved to be a great tool for personnel to experiment and learn with so it was determined to purchase more printers to use in other Navy areas. A 3D design and print capability, meant people could make what may have previously been very complicated quite simple and with relatively low risk. The sense that change was occurring and able to be made after a small amount of training, was found to be empowering. The strategy of innovation was not based purely on the 3D printers, but this idea in particular gave people contemporary technology to implement ‘change’ rapidly and cost effectively in the workplace. Implementation of innovation across Navy has in many cases seen the youngest members in the role of Unit Innovation Coordinator due to their confidence in adoption of new technology and confidence to question the status quo. The 3D printer workshops at sea are a demonstration of progressive thinking and an innovative mindset for Navy personnel especially those at sea.
WIN has led by example to take on risk and implement its own innovation activities including the 3D printing program to re-shape the way Navy re-supplies its ships with spare parts and pave the way for future supply-chain models. By introducing better ways of communicating, the 3D printer program has become a ‘Trojan horse’ for a broader mindset change and pragmatic grass roots innovation success, with over 75 individual innovation ideas having been implemented since. Success has been demonstrated through many use cases where Navy’s mission has been supported through improved ability to put ships to sea leading to improved war fighting capability. The outcomes from Navy personnel utilising the 3D printing technology has been instrumental in inspiring further more experimental activities and has in some cases permitted the rectification of low risk defective issues. The 3D printing program has improved Navy capability by providing ships staff and maintenance staff with a means to develop spare parts whilst at sea in order to remediate break downs, keeping the ship operational and on task in mission critical environments. The program is also aligned with the Chief of Navy Innovation Statement and WIN continues to achieve in alignment with all of the success criteria set out in the statement i.e. communicate innovation success, develop innovative skills, track and transform innovative ideas into practical solutions.