How 3D Printing Could Change the Maritime Industry
Innovation and new technologies are the cornerstones of the development of any industry. When it comes to maritime, nowadays the attention falls on creative solutions to help with the air pollution problem from ships. Although, other areas of the industry can also be impacted by new technologies like 3D printing. The question is whether that impact will be positive or negative?
The very nature of ships dictates that they’re always on the move. This means that access to repair facilities or parts storage is limited to the short time vessels are docked. However, with 3D printers aboard ships, there will be an opportunity to produce parts right there in case of emergency. Not only that, the various components and spare parts printed could be easily customised to provide a solution to the most complex situations.
3D printing auxiliary ship parts is not the only advantage this technology can create – it also helps with environmental protection. Recently, the French company Naval Group and Centrale Nantes engineering school 3D printed the world’s first hollow propeller blade demonstrator. The Wire Arc for Additive Manufacturing (WAAM) process allows printing large parts for the production of complex geometry propellers that improve energy efficiency and reduce the environmental impact. Before 3D printing, such a design could not be achieved by traditional manufacturing technologies.
The supply of easy-to-access spare parts would ease the burden of shippers at sea, but existing suppliers might suffer as a consequence of lessening demand. Although, currently a lot of spare part providers face difficulties with storing and shipping items that are required infrequently. Instead of fearing it, suppliers embracing 3D printing could meet more client needs and reduce their costs by selling copyrights to customers to print the parts themselves rather than manufacturing physical items, a survey from Strategy& suggests.
It’s worth remembering that 3D printing technology is not only an industrial tool. It is expected that in the future it will be adopted by consumers, allowing them to print their own desired goods. Many celebrate this idea, however, it could spell out trouble for the container shipping industry. With every item available within reach, fewer people will want to wait for a container ship to transport products from around the world, eventually making this sector obsolete.
Which will it be?
When discussing 3D printing in the maritime industry, there is something to add in both sides of the pro/con list. The best way to gauge the impact of any new applications is to test it out. Some shipping companies have already started using 3D printing technology, find out what results they achieved at the 4th International Green & Smart Shipping Summit in Rotterdam on 8-9 October, where industry insiders and maritime professionals will gather for a day of discussions and networking. Tickets: www.gssummit.org.