July 7, 2015 | By Alec

While high quality metal 3D printing is increasingly being used in the heavy aviation and aerospace industries, it is slowly invading shipyards too. Earlier this year we learned that Chinese warships are becoming equipped with emergency 3D printers for replacement parts, but commercial shipbuilders are now starting to look into creating a wide range of ship parts with this technology. Leading the way is a Dutch consortium of 27 shipyard-related businesses. As part of the project ‘3D Printing of Maritime Spare Parts’, the consortium have teamed up with high end manufacturer NLR to study the quality and durability of 3D printed metal parts in maritime conditions.

For those of you who’ve never heard of them, NLR is the National Aerospace Laboratory, an independent knowledge and research institute in the Netherlands. Specializing in aerospace innovation, they develop sustainable solutions for a very broad range of technical applications using the latest technologies. A perfect partner, in short, if you’re trying to bring scientific discoveries to the practical realm and that is exactly what the consortium was looking for.

In this particular case, the NLR will be 3D printing and testing four ship parts (initially, with the number expected to rise to thirty) for the maritime consortium, including screws, washers and liquid conductors. All parts are expected to be completed and tested over the following months, with first results scheduled for September. The initiative for this project was taken by InnovationQuarter, the Harbor of Rotterdam and RDM Makerspace, who only recently signed the agreement.

So what is this test all about? Specifically, the NLR is set to test these 3D printed components for suitability on the high seas. This means that functionality and integrity (referring to stability, rigidity and strength) are crucial areas to focus on, enabling the shipbuilders to judge their suitability. Economic feasibility is also an area that will be critically reviewed for obvious reasons.

As Robert van Herwaarden from AEGIR-Marine Production, one of the partners said, 3D printing had been on their radar for some time. ‘Innovation is one of our priorities and we were already exploring 3D printing for our business. Joining this consortium was, therefore, a natural thing to do. I found that the selection of the final 4 products was a learning process by itself. What can be 3D printed? When is it profitable and what are the benefits,’ he says.

However, 3D printing has already proven itself on in one area: speed. Sometimes, they say on the NLR’s website, speed is key when a ship is harbored on the other side of the planet and is in desperate need of a very specific spare part. 3D printing would obviously be a prime candidate to solve that issue in as little time as possible. But on a larger scale, these tests are set to serve as the basis for a database that will enable maritime partners to easily review and select various materials, production methods and finishing technologies in the near future. This will, they hope, offer participants the possibility to concretely and accurately judge new technological possibilities in the near future. ‘For the NLR this is also a great way to get familiar with testing practices in the maritime world,’ Paul Arendsen of the NLR adds.

The progress of the study will be presented during the World Harbor Days in Rotterdam in September, while the results themselves will be the topic of an actual 3D printing conference that is to be organized in the Rotterdam Harbor in the fall of 2015. More about the feasibility of 3D printed maritime parts will therefore logically follow in the near future.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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