At RAMLAB in Rotterdam, a prototype of the world's first 3D-printed ship propeller was recently presented.
In order to comply with the stringent inspection requirements of Bureau Veritas, the material characteristics of the prototype were thoroughly tested. Using the knowledge and experience gained with the production of this prototype, a second certified copy will be printed, which will next year be installed on a DamenShipyards tugboat for practical testing. The production of the 3D-printed ship propeller weighing 400 kg is a milestone in 3D production technologies. It demonstrates that bulky metal components can be produced at lower cost and in less time than with existing technologies.
The production of the 3D-printed ship propeller, measuring 1350 mm, was achieved by a consortium consisting of Damen Shipyards Group, RAMLAB, Promarin, Autodesk and Bureau Veritas. The ship propeller, made of a nickel-aluminium-bronze (NAB) alloy, was produced using the Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM) method with a Valk Welding welding robot and Autodesk software. After printing, the ship propeller was CNC-milled at the Autodesk ‘Advanced Manufacturing Facility’ in Birmingham (UK).
It was important that insight should be rapidly gained into the material characteristics of the 3D-printed ship propeller so as to meet the stringent inspection requirements of Bureau Veritas. “3D-printed materials are built up layer by layer," says Kees Custers, Project Engineer at the Damen Shipyards R&D department. "As a consequence, they exhibit different physical characteristics in different directions (anisotropy). Steel or cast materials on the other hand have the same characteristics in all directions (isotropy). For the inspection, samples were tested for tensile strength and static load-bearing capacity."
The production of the 3D-printed ship propeller weighing 400 kg is a milestone in 3D production technologies. "The challenge is to translate a computer 3D CAD file into a physical product. That is a complicated matter, because the ship propeller has a double-curve geometric form with a number of challenging overhanging sections," explains Kees Custers.
In terms of the capacity of RAMLAB to print objects with maximum dimensions of 7x2x2 m, the 3D printing of a ship propeller of this magnitude is a real breakthrough in the maritime industry.
"This technology represents a fundamental change in the production methods of metal parts, and will have a large effect on supply chains."
3D-printing set to turn the shipbuilding industry upside down
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