- 3D printing has been used in shipbuilding on a relatively small scale
- There is a lot of research being conducted in 3D printing for the maritime sector.
- The first commercial end use parts for ships are being installed
- 3D printing could be used to test models, critical parts, on board repair and new geometries.
Whereas we can see big advances in 3D printing in automotive and aerospace the shipbuilding and maritime industries have been laggards in implementing 3D printing. This is partially due to scale. Ships are very large and 3D printers often do not at this moment have the size to be able to produce many of the parts for ships. Models used for shipbuilding are also quite large. This means that a test model of a ship or a wave test model has also so far been comparatively expensive to produce. At precisely the moment when other industries were looking at commercializing 3D printing in end use parts the oil price took a significant hit. This had huge effects on shipbuilders producing craft for the oil and gas industries. This has knock on effects in competition and orders across the industry and lead to a reduction in R&D and staff. Due to the timing of this the shipbuilding industry is still very much “battening the hatches” rather than looking to invest to commercialize new technologies for their industry.
These factors have held back the large scale introduction of 3D printing in the shipbuilding industry. There are a number of interesting things happening at the moment however that point to growth in 3D printing of ships. The same considerations that make 3D printing valuable for automotive and aerospace: lower weight, fewer parts, less labor, less stock, lead time reduction and quicker iterations also do play a role in shipbuilding.