Power & Tech­nol­ogy


Power & Motor Yacht - - CONTENTS -

3D print­ing is hap­pen­ing in boat con­struc­tion— now.

I’m not old enough to re­mem­ber the fiber­glass rev­o­lu­tion, but I’ve heard from many an old salt that trep­i­da­tion about this new­fan­gled ma­te­rial ran high. Gen­er­a­tions of men be­came highly skilled wooden boat­builders un­der the tute­lage of their fa­thers, who learned from their fa­thers. They were mak­ing an hon­est liv­ing. Why would they change? It’s been over 50 years since these dec­la­ra­tions were made and quickly snuffed out by fiber­glass. And while boat man­u­fac­tur­ing has ben­e­fited from new tech­nolo­gies like vac­uum resin in­fu­sion and em­braced ma­te­ri­als like car­bon fiber, today’s ves­sels are still con­ceived and built in es­sen­tially the same way.

Gen­er­ally, man­u­fac­tur­ers tend to hold fast to legacy and tra­di­tion. The marine in­dus­try’s will­ful­ness is an in­te­gral part of its ap­peal. La­mentably, the sys­tem de­vel­oped in pro­duc­tion boat­build­ing left man­u­fac­tur­ers hold­ing the bag dur­ing the last eco­nomic down­turn. With vast sums in­vested for R&D, molds, and ma­te­ri­als—and shops full of high-end prod­ucts for com­mis­sion­ing—many builders were forced to close. As the in­dus­try re­cov­ers, look­ing to tech as a dis­rupter is more ap­peal­ing than ever.

“The in­dus­try has to change its ap­proach to­wards de­sign­ing and build­ing ships com­pletely to stay com­pet­i­tive and eco­nomic. The build is la­bor-in­ten­sive and hin­dered by pro­duc­tion meth­ods,” said Geert Schouten, di­rec­tor at Ship­builder. Schouten runs the Nether­lands-based soft­ware com­pany and is among the lead­ing pro­po­nents of 3D print man­u­fac­tur­ing that he feels will turn boat­build­ing as we know it on its head.

My first thought on this is one shared by those I’ve spo­ken to about it: 3D print­ers are not large enough to print a hull. “That’s based on the cur­rent pos­si­bil­i­ties for de­sign­ing and build­ing ships,” Schouten said, adding, “with a dif­fer­ent ap­proach, many parts of a ship can be 3D-printed.”

The points made by Schouten and other pro­po­nents of 3D print­ing are hard to ig­nore. The dig­i­tal­iza­tion of the en­tire process matched with robo­ti­za­tion means sig­nif­i­cantly fewer com­po­nents, tool­ing, and ma­chin­ing. Vol­ume cus­tomiza­tion and de­sign changes made in rapid real time can save the builder time and money on ma­te­ri­als, and cut back on waste. Al­go­rith­mic soft­ware runs through in­nu­mer­able cal­cu­la­tions and fig­ures out the most ef­fi­cient way to con­struct com­po­nents, po­ten­tially re­mov­ing the need to phys­i­cally build pro­to­types and 1:1 scale mod­els. Thus, pro­duc­tion times can be cut down from months to hours in some cases.

The ma­te­ri­als are an up­grade as well. Ther­mo­plas­tics with names like Ul­tem 9085 and Wind­form have trick­led down from the aero­space in­dus­try, where they have been tested in the most rig­or­ous con­di­tions, and are now stan­dard­ized. They are strong, durable, and demon­strate a su­pe­rior strength-to-weight ra­tio as com­pared to what a tra­di­tional fiber­glass build can of­fer. If it’s good enough for NASA, it’s pretty tough stuff.

A few builders are lead­ing the charge. Hanse Yachts, one of the largest sail­boat pro­duc­ers in Europe, has de­vel­oped a 66-foot 3D printer and con­tin­ues to test ma­te­ri­als. In Si­cily, bou­tique man­u­fac­turer Livrea is well on its way to pro­duc­ing a 3D-printed 26foot sail­boat with the goal of rac­ing it 4,000 miles across the At­lantic in the 2019 Mini Transat. Hinck­ley Yachts is uti­liz­ing 3D print­ing to cre­ate ti­ta­nium hard­ware (more on that on page 46).

I think of the work­force: How will today’s jobs in boat­build­ing be trans­formed in to­mor­row’s mar­ket with this new tech­nol­ogy? Time will tell.

3D print­ing a boat might not be an out­landish idea.


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