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Image source: Autocam

Image source: Autocam

Ahoy! WAAMpeller Leaves Port

“On-demand” manufacturing using a mix of both disruptive and traditional methods promises to potentially save millions of dollars in warehousing, logistics and downtime costs in the maritime industry. Contributed by Autodesk

First revealed in April last year, the Port of Rotterdam’s Additive Manufacturing Fieldlab (Ramlab) and Autodesk have been working on an additively manufactured ship propeller as the pilot component in the use of hybrid manufacturing in the maritime industry.

Converging Technologies

The ship’s propeller was made using a hybrid manufacturing process combining wire and arc additive manufacturing (WAAM) using industrial robotic arms and subtractive machining and grinding techniques.

Called the “WAAMpeller”, the component is the first class-approved 3D-printed propeller. Both company’s representatives claim that such projects could radically transform the future of ‘on-demand’ manufacturing within the maritime industry and save the industry millions in warehousing, logistics and downtime costs.

Hybrid Manufacturing

As the largest port in Europe, the Netherlands’ Port of Rotterdam is one of the most important intersections for the flow of cargo in the world. It offers the region connections to global ports and handles over 460 million tons of cargo a year, so it is imperative that the facility and ships run smoothly.

According to Tom Rutteman, customer advocacy and brand engagement, Autodesk, when a key part on a ship is damaged it needs replacing or repairing. If replacement parts are not in stock, it can take weeks or even months to have this delivered from a warehouse on the other side of the world, creating a costly challenge for the maritime industry as ships sit idle in ports. For companies, this can add up to millions of dollars.

Image source: Autocam

Do You Know The Way?

But what the WAAMpeller project has shown, said Mr Rutteman, is that there is another way—hybrid manufacturing—harnessing the latest additive manufacturing techniques and technologies, combined with traditional subtractive manufacturing to produce replacement parts in days instead of weeks and months.

To tackle this challenge, the Port opened the Ramlab, an onsite facility which includes a pair of 6-axis robotic arms capable of additively manufacturing large metal industrial parts. The team works with a dedicated network of hardware and software partners, academic and certification institutions and key end users to help the Port stay on course.

As a main software partner, Autodesk has played a role in developing the facility’s hybrid manufacturing approach, which entails combining additive and subtractive manufacturing. This style enables the facility 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 a matter of days, saving time and money without sacrificing precision or performance.

Manufacturing On-Demand

“The Port of Rotterdam’s Ramlab initiative is a great example of how whole industries are being disrupted by industrial additive manufacturing,” explains Steve Hobbs, vice president of CAM and hybrid manufacturing, Autodesk. “Creating an ‘on-demand’ hybrid manufacturing capability for replacement parts will have a major impact on reducing wasted time and cost currently incurred across the maritime industry when ship parts are damaged. We are excited to be working alongside some of the key players in the marine industry to bring to reality this very tangible example of the future of making things.”

“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,” says Vincent Wegener, managing director of the facility. “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. Autodesk is a key partner for us due to its expertise in how to design and manufacture using both the latest additive manufacturing techniques and more traditional CNC and machining methods.”

Certified Sea-Worthy

The ship propeller pilot project was created in close collaboration with all involved partners. According to Mr Rutteman, since the initial prototype was developed, the WAAMpeller has been updated both in production method and throughput time over the last few months. The final part has been subjected to a series of tests, having been fitted to one of Damen’s tugboat vessels (Stan Tug 1606).

These tests included speed trials, bollard pull and crash stop testing, which involved going from full throttle ahead to full throttle reverse—the heaviest loading that a propeller can experience during normal operation. Overseen by certification body Bureau Veritas, it passed these tests, and the now unveiled “final” version is officially class-approved by Bureau Veritas.

In addition to the work done onsite at the facility, Autodesk has also assisted by providing access to its Advanced Manufacturing Facility (AMF) in Birmingham so that new design and manufacturing concepts could be explored. Collaborative activities by the two organisations include:

  • Exploring the design of components and investigating design features made possible by additive manufacturing.
  • Preparing these components for manufacture by creating appropriate preforms with the essential considerations.
  • Building these components considering the distortion and stress on macroscale, geometric fidelity and thermal management.
  • Post processing techniques to bring these components to final form in a repeatable and reliable manner.

A Big Leap

Kelvin Hamilton, senior technical consultant, Autodesk, is the technical liaison on the project at the Birmingham AMF, which is part of the company’s global network of technology centres.

According to Mr Hamilton, the collaboration with the facility represents a leap forward for hybrid manufacturing: “We are bringing additive manufacturing to a truly industrial scale. So much 3D printing to date has been limited to smaller components. But the technology—both software and hardware—is now ready for bigger things, and we are seizing that opportunity to show the world what is possible.”

He added, “One of the most exciting things about this project is that we have not just produced a ‘one-off demonstrator’. It is relatively easy to do something once but, to produce a certified part and establish a process takes more time and consideration. Working with a great team of partners we’ve harnessed the best of additive and subtractive manufacturing to create a process that is repeatable. This repeatability provides the potential to radically transform the whole industry.”

Mr Rutteman concludes on a hopeful note, “The maritime industry has taken a look into the future—what is the next industry ready for disruption through additive manufacturing?”

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