3D printing, the implications for the future of shipping

In the latest Standard Club Technology Bulletin Deputy Underwriter Callum O’Brien noted that the pace of technological change in the shipping industry had accelerated exponentially in the last two years.

In order to monitor these changes and consider the implications for its membership, The Standard Club decided to establish a Technology Working Group, made up of representatives from across the company, including claims handlers, underwriters, loss prevention experts and IT directors from the Club’s London, Athens and Singapore offices.

A recently published technology bulletin highlighted some of the Club’s main areas of research to date.

O’Brien said that five years ago 3D printing was considered by many to be the next technological breakthrough for the mass market in home and personal use; however, many had since realized that there were far greater applications for industry. Graeme Temple, Braemar Managing Director said that there were currently seven different additive manufacturing techniques referred to as 3D printing.

Material jetting was the most well-known manufacturing technique, where layers of plastic wire were melted on top of each other, forming a 3D structure.

But Temple said that powder bed extrusion was the most interesting 3D printing technique for the marine industry, as this method could produce accurate and complex metal structures for spare parts.

The benefits were fairly plain.

Warehousing and shipping costs of spare parts for ships could be reduced by producing items on demand at any location.

The parts could also be produced without the heavy scantlings previously created in the casting process and with efficient lightweight designs.

In a shipboard machinery breakdown scenario, delays could be reduced as replacement parts could be produced at the next port instead of being sent from the original equipment maker’s central warehouse.

Small basic parts such as valves, pipe fittings or impellers could even potentially be made on board in the event of a failure.

Engineers at the Port of Rotterdam were already exploring the use of additive manufacturing processes to carry out fast repairs to damaged ships. The port had opened the Rotterdam Additive Manufacturing Lab (RAMLAB), an on site facility that included a pair of six axis robotic arms, capable of additively manufacturing large metal industrial parts.

RAMLAB can pursue faster fabrication options – 3D printing large ship components in metal and then finishing the pieces using traditional CNC milling and grinding methods within days.

A Dutch crane manufacturer was reported to have printed a 3D offshore crane hook, which successfully passed its load test and all associated control checks.

Whilst the implementation of additive manufacturing on shore has a seemingly successful future, it was less likely that ship borne 3D manufacturing would be as popular, especially for large components, said Temple. He said that a large number of components still required finishing by machine, thread cutting or polishing, which were specialist skills. Further, mechanical components used on board were made from a wide variety of different alloys. To effectively implement shipborne 3D manufacturing, a similar range of materials would need to be kept on board, raising issues of degradation and space for storage in the correct controlled conditions. Manufacturers and Class would still inevitably need to verify the quality of components, even if they were produced using OEM approved programmes and machines, as there was a risk that parts could be produced negligently.

Despite these issues with onboard production, Temple said that shoreside manufacturing was likely to be a reality soon, starting with Class approved local workshops in strategic places to introduce this technology.

The “seven types” of 3D printing.

1. Material jetting

2. Powder bed extrusion

3. Material extrusion

4. Binder jetting

5. Directed energy deposition

6. Vat photo polymerisation

7. Sheet lamination.