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Can you really 3D print a propeller?

Shiprepair eNews June 20173-d printed propeller

Recently 3D printing it one of the new emerging “disruptive” technologies that many believe will fundamentally change the way we do things, while others think it is just sales hype. In 2015, a consortium of 26 Dutch maritime companies set-up a research programme teamed up to see if 3D printing maritime spare parts is reality or a future dream. The consortium partners in the pilot project selected and redesigned parts, had them printed and tested the results. The pilot project focused mainly on printing metal spare parts including:-

  • Propeller (Marin)
  • Cooled valve seat (Ruysch)
  • Spacer ring (Huisman)
  • Hinge (Fokker)
  • T-connector (Heerema)
  • Seal Jig (Aegir)Final as built 3D printed propeller
  • Manifold (Huisman)

The conclusion was that 3D printing did indeed holds promises for a number of parts, and that product requirements can be met in a number of cases. Also the business case can be positive, especially when time to market is essential. On the other hand the findings also indicate that extra work needed to be done to get regulations adjusted to be able to qualify 3D printed parts.

 

Following on from the success of this programme the Port of Rotterdam Authority, opened RAMLAB (Rotterdam Additive Manufacturing LAB) in November 2016 to develop knowledge relating to printing in metal, 3D designs and certification. It is claimed to be the first such facility equipped with 3D metal printers that focuses on the marine related sector. RAMLAB uses 3D metal printers, a process also referred to as additive manufacturing (AM).

 

RAMLAB includes a pair of 6-axis robotic arms capable of additively manufacturing large parts, and recently the facility, along with partner Autodesk, unveiled the first component to be produced at RAMLAB: a ship’s propeller. The part was actually made using a hybrid manufacturing approach, combining wire and arc additive manufacturing (WAAM), using the industrial robotic arms, with subtractive machining and grinding technology.

 

It’s the latest example of a recent trend toward hybrid manufacturing, RAMLAB manufacturingrather than strictly additive. Autodesk, as a software partner, played a large part in the development of RAMLAB’s hybrid approach, which involves 3D printing large metal ship components and then machining them down to their final size with CNC milling and grinding methods.

 

RAMLAB working with partners Damen Shipyards Group, Promarin, Autodesk and Bureau Veritas on the development of the world’s first class approved 3D printed ship’s propeller, to be called the WAAMpeller, which will be tested on a Damen ship. The propeller is expected to be printed in summer 2017, with subsequent testing in the autumn. The propeller will be based on a Promarin design used in the Damen Stan Tug 1606. The 1.3m diameter propeller weighs approximately 180kg and will be fabricate from a bronze alloy using the WAAM process. Bureau Veritas will be involved in the certification of the completed product, the first time that a metal 3D printed maritime component will be approved by Class.

 

Once the propeller has been printed, Damen’s will undertake comprehensive programme of full-scale trials. “We will be that will include bollard pull and crash test scenarios. Our ambition is to demonstrate that the research phase for 3D printing in the maritime sector is over, and that it can now be effectively applied in operations,” said Kees Custers, Project Engineer in Damen’s Research & Development department.

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