Video of the week: Dutch engineers unveil 3D printed ship propeller

Engineers at Europe’s largest port are exploring the use of additive manufacturing processes to carry out repairs to damaged ships.

A 3D printed propeller produced at Rotterdam’s RAMLAB

The Netherlands’ Port of Rotterdam is one of the most important intersections for the flow of cargo in the world.

Currently, if a vessel comes in to port needing a replacement part—a propeller, for example— it can take weeks or months to order and deliver, costing companies millions of dollars while they wait. It can also be quite costly for companies to keep large stockpiles of parts in warehouses around the globe.

To tackle this challenge, the Port opened the Rotterdam Additive Manufacturing Lab (RAMLAB), an onsite facility that includes a pair of 6-axis robotic arms capable of additively manufacturing large metal industrial parts.

The port is working alongside Autodesk which presented a scaled down 3D printed ship’s propeller at Hannover Messe in Germany this week.

As a main software partner in the project, Autodesk has played a key role in developing RAMLAB’s hybrid manufacturing approach, which entails combining additive and subtractive manufacturing.

This 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 days.

The next step for the ship propeller pilot project will be the production of a full-scale version that will be fitted to one of the partner’s ships later this year.

“With the work being done at RAMLAB, the group hopes to accelerate the cross-industry adoption of hybrid manufacturing for making large-scale parts on-demand,” said Vincent Wegener, managing director of the RAMLAB. “Our aim is to make the Port of Rotterdam not just an important gateway for Europe, but also a leader in the development of new manufacturing methods.”