06. May 2019

Study: 3D printing in the maritime industry

Additive manufacturing processes are already widespread in many industrial sectors. To date, the maritime industry has barely realised and harnessed the potential that this technology actually offers. Many actors are not aware of the companies and the expertise in the field of additive manufacturing available in Germany. The Maritime Cluster Northern Germany (MCN) has commissioned a study from the Fraunhofer Institute for Additive Production Technology (IAPT) to explore the potential of additive manufacturing for maritime applications and to identify service providers in this area. Entitled “Assessing the need for additive manufacturing methods in the maritime industry in the greater metropolitan region of Hamburg”, MCN presented the results of the study at Fraunhofer IAPT on May 6, 2019. “The aim of the study is to provide maritime companies with a deeper understanding of the capabilities of additive manufacturing for their respective fields of activity,” said Lina Harms, branch manager of the MCN Hamburg office.

A wide range of potential applications in the maritime industry

Additive manufacturing could see future use in the maritime industry in the areas of prototype construction and spare parts supply in particular. In addition, Fraunhofer IAPT identified potential applications including mould construction for shipyards, engines and gearboxes for suppliers of marine propulsion technology, drive trains and propellers for suppliers of manoeuvring and propulsion systems, heat, pump and hydraulic systems for suppliers of vessel equipment, and special equipment for marine engineering companies.

Component analyses at maritime companies confirm potential

There is a wide range of potential applications for additive manufacturing technologies in the maritime industry. This is the conclusion of the study in the context of component analyses carried out at companies in the maritime industry. The most frequent benefit for the examined companies is the use of additively manufactured spare parts, especially when substituting defective cast components. A repair solution based on additive processes is also suitable for large components. Free-form surfaces, like those found on boat hulls or even on flow-affected components of larger ships, are also a suitable application area for 3D printing, which for economic reasons has so far been the preferred method of processing synthetic materials. Marine engineering in general offers considerable potential, since the components required here have stringent functional requirements that can be easier met with the aid of additive technologies.

Numerous service providers in the area served by the Maritime Cluster Northern Germany

A significant share of the service providers identified throughout Germany that are involved in additive manufacturing are located in the catchment area of the Maritime Cluster Northern Germany, guaranteeing a regional infrastructure in terms of additive manufacturing. These service providers are potential cooperation partners with whom projects related to additive manufacturing can be initiated or carried out. “Due to the widespread adoption of 3D printing in other industries, the maritime industry can afford to approach the issue in a resource-efficient way—there is no need to explore entirely new avenues and the risk involved in using this new technology can be mitigated for new users,” says Lina Harms.

Four key challenges for implementation

There are currently four central challenges faced in the implementation of additive manufacturing in industrial companies, especially by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs): technological maturity, personnel qualification, costs and a lack of process regulations. However, a significant breakthrough can be expected in the next one to five years as the industrialisation of additive manufacturing progresses and these implementation challenges can be overcome.

Best practice examples from the maritime industry

Taking two companies with less than 25 employees as an example, the progression from initial idea to full implementation of large-scale additive manufacturing is described. Both examples illustrate that implementing a new technology such as additive manufacturing is a gradual process. At the beginning, the focus is on establishing the employees' know-how in terms of additive manufacturing. In this initial stage, the support of development service providers and contract manufacturers is called upon. As soon as projects with additive manufacturing are completed with a certain degree of regularity, investments in an in-house additive manufacturing infrastructure must be evaluated.


Study  “Assessing the need for additive manufacturing methods in the maritime industry in the greater metropolitan region of Hamburg”

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Lina Harms, Branch Manager
Maritimes Cluster Norddeutschland e. V., Office Hamburg