Finding a commercial edge with 3D printing

3D printing, or additive manufacturing, looks set to make the spare parts sector of the industry more efficient, by cutting costs and lead times for shipowners and operators waiting for vital parts to be delivered, writes Samantha Fisk.

Although still in its early days, 3D printing is starting to turn heads in the market and has been seeing big players such as Wilhelmsen Ship Service and OSM Maritime Group getting involved in industry projects to develop the technology. The main advantage for this technology is for getting spare parts to vessels quicker than current traditional methods, which are inefficient and can be very costly for shipowners. As Hakon Ellekjaer, Head of Venture, 3D printing, Wilhelmsen Ship Services, highlights: When a manager of ship needs a spare part, they really need it.

OSM Maritime Group has also seen an increased interest in this technology with Jaybee Angon, the group’s manager of strategic projects highlighting that the company has seen a growth in interest from several industry players to explore the opportunities of 3D printing further, especially as a digitalised platform for rapid response to an urgent vessel maintenance need at a fraction of the cost.

Wilhelmsen Ship Service is also aiming to be able to supply 3D printed spare parts to vessels quickly and at a lower cost. “Our ambition is to have the largest printable spare parts catalogue”, says Ellekjaer.

The company has six clients on its books to deliver 3D parts and is naturally keen to attract more. Wilhemsen Ship Service has also been working with DNVGL for the standards of the parts being manufactured. Currently, the parts that are being made will still need to meet with the current standards for the spare part that is manufactured in a more traditional way, but in the future may need to meet with future regulations that apply to the process of 3D printing.

Angon notes that the shipping industry is a heavily regulated industry and that parts that are produced by 3D printing will still need to adhere to the standards, if not surpass them. “This new technology may be easily adopted for parts and spares that are trivial in nature and that are not subject to inspections; but for class-approved vessels, there may be a need for testing the strength of the raw materials used for 3D printing, and a need for a thorough auditing process for the 3D printing service providers”, he notes.

There are concerns that, due to the ease of manufacturing 3D spare parts, it could lead to negligently printed products. However, Angon believes that if the correct risk assessments and rules are put in to place, this will ensure that the standards for 3D printed products remain at the same level as those made in a more traditional manner.

The technology is also coming up against challenges of its own with finding materials that can be processed to make the parts that will also stand up to these stringent standards. However, Angon notes that in the current world climate, 3D printing is also highlighting another benefit when logistics are being hampered and access to metals is in short supply for the more traditional methods of manufacturing.

Adding to this he also adds that: “with the ever-growing focus on reduction of carbon emissions and sustainability in general, we expect that this environmentally friendly alternative to the traditional marine supply chain will gain more popularity and acceptance in the shipping industry.”

Wilhelmsen Ship Services’ Ellekjaer comments that original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are also under pressure from clients to cut costs and deliver products within even tighter time frames. Wilhelmsen is working with OEM’s and launching a programme that will look at being able to deliver a full package for them in which they can supply their products to the industry in a more efficient way. Another advantage for OEM’s looking at this technology is that costs can be then furtherreduced through less need for warehousing, less maintenance costs on machines used for production, and decreased replacement costs for damaged/missing deliveries to vessels.

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