Shipping playing catchup when it comes to 3D printing

The Maritime 3D Printing Show Area at last week’s SMM exhibition in Hamburg (pictured) might have been one of the most busy stands at the world’s largest shipping show, but the take up of this technology remains many years behind other modes of transport such as aviation and cars.

Christian Möller from Maritimes Cluster Norddeutschland, a regional maritime innovation grouping, who oversaw the showcase, told Splash: “3D printing is already used by aerospace and the automobile sectors in large numbers. As usual, shipping is five to 10 years behind with this technology.”

The show area, heavily trailed by organisers SMM, brought together a range of companies to show the entire supply chain of 3D printing from engineering to printing and testing and assessment with many printed products on display as well as two working printers.

“Interest has been from all sides,” Möller told Splash of the throngs of visitors to the stand, from navy personnel, to producers of parts and shipyards looking to replace old parts.

“The vision is to have small- to medium-sized printers onboard ships,” Möller said. Another idea where 3D printers could take off is at next ports of call, Möller said, whereby engineers onboard can call in advance for a replacement part.

“There is such a wide range of possibilities,” Möller concluded.

Some of the biggest names in shipbuilding in Asia, Europe and North America have in recent years set about developing their own 3D printing capabilities. A year ago, for instance, a prototype of the world’s first class approved ship’s propeller was produced using 3D printing techniques. The 1,350 mm diameter propeller – named WAAMpeller – was the result of a cooperative consortium of companies that includes Damen Shipyards, RAMLAB, Promarin, Autodesk and Bureau Veritas.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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