Nov 30, 2017 | By David

Over the past few years we’ve seen 3D printing gradually taking over significant parts of manufacturing processes across the automotive and aerospace industries, and now the ship-building industry is starting to take advantage of what the technology has to offer. After some trials and prototypes, the first fully 3D printed ship propeller has been approved for use and completed by a team of engineers in the Netherlands. Known as the WAAMpeller, it was unveiled at the Damen Shipyard Group’s headquarters in Gorinchem, in the south of the country.

This groundbreaking project was made possible by close collaborative work between defense and shipbuilding conglomerate Damen Group, propeller manufacturing expert Promarin, the Port of Rotterdam’s RAMLAB (Rotterdam Additive Manufacturing LAB). and Autodesk. Bureau Veritas was involved at the testing stage, putting the 3D printed component through rigorous trials in order to verify its suitability for purpose.

The companies began pooling their collective resources and knowledge around seven months ago. Promarin provided the initial design for the triple-blade propeller, and RAMLAB was in charge of the main manufacturing stage, fabricated the piece using innovative Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM) techniques. This was supported by Autodesk’s expertise in software, robotics and additive manufacturing. Damen provided one of its vessels from the Stan Tug 1606 range in order to help out with testing the propeller, as well as contributing crucial research and development expertise.

August of this year saw the successful completion of the first WAAMpeller prototype, which gave the team a significant confidence boost and the ability to move forward with a lot fewer uncertainties. According to Vincent Wegener, Managing Director of RAMLAB, “Production of the second WAAMpeller was greatly improved because we had learned a lot from producing the prototype. This mainly concerned the hardware/software interaction because, when laying down 298 layers of Nickel Aluminium Bronze alloy, it is important to have a tight control on all process parameters.”

The second prototype, once completed, was installed on a Stan Tug 1606 to see how it would fare in real-world seafaring conditions. Such tests of ship components are extensive as the parts must comply with the strict environmental rules and regulations in place in harbours across the world. The part also has to perform at a high level in terms of speed as well as in crash stop scenarios, where the ship goes from full throttle ahead to full throttle reverse, exerting a large amount of force on the propeller. “Of course, we were all a bit nervous beforehand – after all, innovation always comes with a certain amount of unknowns – but the testing was a success,” said Kees Custers, Damen Project Engineer R&D enthusiastically. “From day one, this project has been characterised by a good working atmosphere and team dynamics, so there were quite a few high-fives on board when we had successfully completed the tests!”

RAMLab itself was only opened just over a year ago, and the success of this project points to a promising future for 3D printing technology in the maritime sector. According to RAMLab CEO Allard Castelein, "This project has shown the shipbuilding industry the potential of 3D printing techniques for the production of vessel components. We continue our intensive research into this very exciting area."



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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