The Latent potential of 3D technology for the Maritime industrial complex

From the earliest days of commerce, companies and individuals alike relied on the transportation of goods from one place to another. Ships were their best options back then just as they are even more relevant today. These large vessels can carry thousands of products safely and move relatively swiftly to reach out to ports worldwide. The maritime industry is a huge conglomerate network of ship owners, charterers, managers, shipyards, Port authorities, flag state controllers, class controllers, suppliers, transiters, and international customers etc. The legacy of the maritime sector has already rendered it to have been the most reliable mode of sea transport engaged in commercial activities. After all, it’s a global business endeavor subject to rigorous safety measures and periodic approvals wherever the vessel may dock.

Ships are equipped with thousands of machinery equipment and devices for their daily operations (more so of individual spares and components for such machines). These devices are subject to failures and are often subject to the requirements of classification societies for periodic replacement or regeneration as per the specificity of the ship’s daily operation. Since the vessel travels tens of thousands of miles to distant places on the sea (in desperate weather conditions at times) for commercial purposes, ships’ operators and managers are highly dependent on the global supply chain for their need of seamless spare parts’ supply. This requires constant coordination of teams, orders, and ongoing projects as well as monitoring of the geopolitical or legal situation of their particular location in the world. This is due to the fact that the service or product must be delivered where the ship currently is. 

Perhaps the maritime industry is the most reluctant to implement the latest technologies since it has already proven traditional solutions of its international network to make ends meet. However, In some parts of the world, there may be complications, longer delivery times, inability to provide a service or part of it, or a significant increase in the cost of such services. Therefore, the introduction of industry 4.0 into various subsectors of the economy and its invaluable benefits could not be overlooked by the maritime sector as well; one of them being of course additive manufacturing. Awareness of Additive technology among shipping companies is still on the rise to help themselves become more competitive.

The key application of Additive manufacturing for the maritime industry is considered on-demand part replacement. Whether it is for new ship building in a yard or routine dry dock service or even regular operational maintenance for the ships’ crew, a prompt availability of spares is of highest importance for the normal operation of the vessel. In order to succeed on such a stride without the delays of supply chain, the employment of additive technologies is proving paramount especially for the fast-paced maritime industry. Some prominent companies like the Maersk have gone the extra mile of installing 3D-printers inside their vessels for instant part production during the need. Utilizing 3D printing in the shipping and offshore industries would also reduce the space needed for spares parts storage and also save on the costs and unnecessary emissions to transport the parts to where the ship is spotted. The solution could also potentially offer real-time access to updated designs for ship systems. 

Yet another challenge of AM adoption for the maritime industry is the case of standardization and acceptance as per the technical requirements in demand for the shipping companies whereby the biggest limitation was due to parts’ size and material properties. This is the case in the shipping industry since the parts are mostly installed on heavy duty machineries dealing with extreme conditions in the seas. Although major shipping class registries are still considering the technology, Det Norske Veritas /DNV/; the Norwegian ships’ class and standards registry has been on the forefront to adopt and approve the use of additive manufacturing in collaboration with the Thyssenkrupp marine systems. Such moves are actually gamechanger set of activities for the advancement of this technology and its long-lasting positive impact over the maritime industry.

“DNV began exploring the potential of AM for the shipping industry in 2016, a number of joint industry projects have been formed to build know-how and engage in a constant dialogue with industry stakeholders to learn about the needs of the shipping industry and its suppliers. This has resulted in a framework of new rules and guidelines, which form the basis for DNV’s qualification, certification, verification and class approval activities. “Contrary to most other classification societies, which just have Recommended Practices,” says Ramesh Babu Govindaraj, Principal Material Specialist DNV Maritime, as he adds, “DNV actually has class rules for Additive Manufacturing so AM materials, processes and components can be included in the classification regime. This benefits both the designer and the OEM because the AM-manufactured parts will be accepted for the classification regime. This means that class accepts the AM process the same way it has been accepting rolling, forging, and casting.”

“The DNV pathway for Additive Manufacturing has made great strides towards making AM a key technology for safety-critical, classed as well as non-class ship parts and components,” says Dr Junghans. “As more AM materials, processes, manufacturers and individual part designs receive class approval, ship owners and yards will be able to rely on a growing list of components whose design has been optimized for the intended application, and which feature better, i.e. more regular, material properties and can be made available faster and at a lower cost.”

Indeed it’s not very far for the maritime industry as well to catch up with the latent potential of additive technologies stored for its practical application.