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Damen seeks to 3D print class-approved propeller

Mon 12 Jun 2017

Damen seeks to 3D print class-approved propeller
WAAM hardware currently uses standard, off-the-shelf welding equipment

The use of 3D components on board commercial vessels could take a big step forward following a recent announcement

The use of 3D printing (or additive manufacturing as it is more accurately known) in the maritime sector has been under development for several years. Numerous companies and consortiums worldwide are engaged in research in this area.

In a major step forward in the application of 3D printing techniques in the maritime sector, Damen Shipyards Group has entered a co-operative consortium with the Port of Rotterdam’s RAMLAB (an initiative of Port of Rotterdam, InnovationQuarter and RDM Makerspace), propeller manufacturer Promarin, software developer Autodesk and class society Bureau Veritas. The goal of this group is to develop the world’s first class-approved 3D printed ship’s propeller, to be called the WAAMpeller.

Damen’s involvement in the project began just over a year ago as a result of one of its in-house student research programmes. “Three students from Delft University of Technology were investigating the potential of 3D printing for us. They brought us into contact with the other members of the consortium,” explained Kees Custers, project engineer in Damen’s research and development department. “What is unique about this group of five companies is that, while we have joint interests, we also have individual aims. This leads to a very productive and co-operative atmosphere in what is a very exciting project.”

The propeller will be based on a Promarin design that is typically found on a Damen Stan Tug 1606. This 1,300mm diameter propeller weighs approximately 180kg. Using Autodesk software in the construction process, RAMLAB will fabricate the WAAMpeller from a bronze alloy using the wire arc additive manufacturing (WAAM) process.

The combination of an electric arc as a heat source and wire as feedstock has been researched for additive manufacturing purposes since the 1990s, although the first patent was filed in 1925. WAAM hardware currently uses standard, off-the-shelf welding equipment – the welding power source, torches and wire feeding systems. Motion can be provided either by robotic systems or by computer numerical controlled gantries. 

Whenever possible, magnesium in gas is the process of choice. Here, the wire is the consumable electrode, and its coaxiality with the welding torch makes it easier to work. Magnesium in gas is ideal for materials such as aluminium and steel, but with titanium the process is affected by arc wandering (deflection of the arc), so tungsten inert gas or plasma arc welding are used for titanium deposition.

RAMLAB is the first field lab equipped with 3D metal printers that focuses on the port-related sector. It uses additive manufacturing to develop knowledge in the field of metal printing, 3D design and certification.

Bureau Veritas will be involved in the certification of the completed product, in what will be the first time that a metal 3D printed maritime component is approved by class.

Once the propeller has been printed, Damen’s role will continue with full-scale trials. “We will be performing a comprehensive programme that will include bollard pull and crash test scenarios. Our ambition is to demonstrate that the research phase for 3D printing in the maritime sector is over, and that it can now be effectively applied in operations.”

The first propeller is expected to be printed by summer 2017, with subsequent testing occurring in the autumn.

Damen invests considerable resources into its various research and development programmes. “Our aim is to build more effective, more cost-efficient and more environmentally friendly vessels,” commented Damen’s principal research engineer Don Hoogendoorn.

“The WAAMpeller project contributes to this goal because not only does it mark an important advance in 3D printing, but also it has the potential to yield significant results in optimising future vessel designs. 3D printing technology brings with it an excellent opportunity to improve ship structures in terms of both performance and fuel consumption.” 

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