Setting sail for a new era of additive manufacturing

A pioneering usage of additive manufacturing to create ‘on-demand’ pieces for repair and replacement in damaged ships has been revealed by the Port of Rotterdam’s Additive Manufacturing Field lab (RAMLAB) in collaboration with Autodesk.

The Port of Rotterdam is the largest in Europe and currently handles more than 460 million tons of cargo every year. As such, efficiency and cost effective time management are imperative. However, when vessels come into the port and require maintenance, the downtime can potentially cost millions, and take weeks of action to repair.

Having to maintain considerable stockpiles of spare parts in either a centralised or disparate warehouse network can also prove expensive over time.

Additive Manufacturing - Inspecting the form of a part during build
Inspecting the form of a part during the build – image courtesy of Autodesk.

To overcome the issues, the Port opened its innovative additive manufacturing field lab, ‘RAMLAB’. The on-site facility includes a pair of six-axis robotic arms, capable of additively manufacturing large scale metal industrial parts to save money, time, and minimise waste.

Autodesk has played a key role in developing RAMLAB’s hybrid manufacturing approach, which combines both additive and subtractive manufacturing.

This style enables RAMLAB to pursue faster fabrication options: 3D printing large ship components in metal and then finishing the pieces using traditional CNC milling and grinding methods within a matter of days, saving time and money without sacrificing precision or performance.

The first pilot component, a ship’s propeller, has been made using this hybrid production process, combining wire and arc additive manufacturing. The next step – expected to happen in mid-2017 –  will be a final, to scale, version, manufactured and fitted to a ship.

Alongside the work and support conducted onsite at RAMLAB, Autodesk has also provided access to its Advanced Manufacturing Facility (AMF) in Birmingham in order to explore new design and manufacturing concepts.

Kelvin Hamilton, technical liaison at the AMF, explained: “We’re bringing additive manufacturing to a truly industrial scale. So much 3D printing to date has been limited to smaller components. But the technology – both software and hardware – is now ready for bigger things, and we’re seizing that opportunity to show the world what’s possible.”