Rotterdam is Europe’s largest port, handling 465 million tons of cargo annually. Its appropriately named Innovation Dock is now home to RAMLAB, the first field lab equipped with 3D metal printers to serve maritime and port-related industries.
RAMLAB—Rotterdam Additive Manufacturing Laboratory—carries out research and development aimed at making wire arc additive manufacturing (WAAM) technology commercially viable. WAAM can produce large metal parts using the freeform method. An electric arc applies heat to steel wire feedstock. The system is fast, less expensive than metal casting and is especially suited for producing propellers and other one-off components. It makes it possible to print steel elements onto generic stock items.
While additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, already has been used to manufacture propellers, they have been small and made of plastic materials. The RAMLAB team thinks that additive manufacturing will reshape industry. Its stated aim is to work toward a future in which components can be printed on demand.
RAMLAB currently has two WAAM systems. One moves along six-meter rails to weld things like lifting hooks and manufacture objects larger than one cubic meter. The other measures three by four meters, has a manipulator and is used to produce propellers up to about two meters in diameter.
In addition to lower cost, major WAAM benefits include its efficiency and its customization capacity. Building up objects one layer at a time, the process uses only the necessary amount of material with near zero waste. This saves energy and raw materials, making products more environmentally sustainable.
The Port of Rotterdam Authority has a large network of partners and members in this project. NauticExpo e-magazine asked RAMLAB project leader Jurjen Duintjer about progress to date. He would only say, “It’s a trial. We are carrying out research on what 3D metal printing can mean for the port. There’s not much more to tell at the moment.”
The Need For Regulations
British partner Lloyd’s Register plays a major role, providing compliance, risk and technical consultancy services. If additive manufacturing is to be accepted by an often sceptical maritime industry, there must be global rules, regulations and standards. Together with UK-based engineering consultancy TWI, Lloyd’s Register launched two new collaborative projects in late January to promote adoption of 3D printing, and is calling for partners and sponsors.
The RAMLAB team thinks that additive manufacturing will reshape industry.
The projects focus on two challenges:
- To achieve additive manufacturing code compliance, partners will investigate routes to regulatory approval for parts selected by project sponsors, and will produce data and assessment criteria for the introduction and acceptance of parts through third-party inspection.
- The ability to join metal additive manufacturing elements to traditional materials will require filling in certain real-world gaps—controls, data, testing and inspection, for example. This will enable project sponsors to design, fabricate and put into service structures that combine conventionally made parts welded to additive manufacturing parts.
Certifying Additive Manufacturing Parts
NauticExpo e-Magazine spoke to Lloyd’s Register additive manufacturing technical lead, David Hardacre. He explained that various international standards closely control marine components, including the European Union’s Pressure Equipment Directive (PED). “We approached the PED technical working group with the challenge of certifying additive manufacturing parts. Its conclusion was that further consideration was needed.”
It was this that gave rise to the projects, Hardacre added, “Existing codes and regulations do not currently include additive manufacturing parts. And that’s especially important in safety-critical pieces of equipment.”
Watch the following video of the RAMLAB opening: