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Delivering On-Demand Parts with Additive Manufacturing

Customer Story

Port of Rotterdam's RAMLAB and Autodesk produce the world's first class certified 3D printed ship propeller.

RAMLAB and Autodesk have pioneered a hybrid manufacturing process to deliver on-demand parts for ships in port. They have created a ship propeller combining wire and arc additive manufacturing using industrial robotic arms and subtractive machining and grinding techniques. Best of all, this was done within days and with minimal waste—all without losing performance or precision.


Manufacturing large metal industrial parts

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’s best connections to global ports and handles over 460 million tons of cargo a year, so it’s imperative that the facility and ships run smoothly. 

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. To tackle this challenge, the Port opened the innovative Additive Manufacturing Fieldlab (RAMLAB), an onsite facility which includes a pair of 6-axis robotic arms capable of additively manufacturing large metal industrial parts. The team at RAMLAB works with a dedicated network of hardware and software partners to help the Port stay on course to become the smartest port in the world.

Hybrid Manufacturing as key to innovation

The RAMLAB has produced the World’s first class-certified, 3D printed ship propeller in the maritime industry. The ship propeller was made using a hybrid manufacturing process combining additive manufacturing with subtractive machining and grinding techniques. The project started with a pair of 6-axis robotic arms and a directed energy deposition (DED) additive process and then finished with CNC machining and polishing to achieve tight tolerances. Best of all, this was done within days and with minimal waste—all without losing performance or precision. 

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

Image courtesy of RAMLAB


Major Advancements in Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing (AM) is already helping manufacturers create products with improved performance, respond more rapidly to customer needs, and accelerate time to market. However, many industries are still weighing when and how to integrate AM into product development and production in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

In this guide, you’ll learn how advancements in software, process, and materials are helping manufacturers successfully utilize AM to move from prototyping to production—and reap the true benefits of the technology.

3D printed propeller passed certification with flying colors

Since the initial prototype was developed in 2017, the propeller 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 grueling tests in the last couple of weeks 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 with flying colors. The now unveiled ‘final’ version is officially class-approved by Bureau Veritas.

Image courtesy of RAMLAB

"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. 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."

- Vincent Wegener, Managing Director, RAMLAB