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China’s breakthrough in 3D printing for shipbuilding

China’s breakthrough in 3D printing for shipbuilding
The use of 3D printing as a technology in the maritime sector remains a relatively new concept. But the application of this technology especially in shipbuilding is actually a viable option in view of the need for a wide-ranging and voluminous number of vessel components.

In the latest R&D development at China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC), the state-owned shipbuilder announced that it has achieved a breakthrough in 3D printing.

At CSIC’s 705th Research Institute, established in 1992 to develop and produce complicated castings and equipment, tests have been conducted on a technique called Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS). The additive manufacturing technique uses laser as a power source to sinter powdered material, typically metal, aiming the laser at points in space defined by a 3D model, thereby binding the material together to create a solid structure, with up to 99% density.

metal 1Back in August 2014, the 705th Research Institute set up a dedicated team called U3 Team based in Kunming, China’s southern Yunnan province, to focus on acquiring the skills and knowledge to materialise the use of 3D printing for CSIC. And after one year of dedicated work, the institute finally came up with its DMLS attached with intellectual property rights.

CSIC claimed that it is now the fourth company in the world - after US firms Stratasys and Fonon Corporation, and Germany’s EOS - to acquire the know-how of DMLS. The Chinese firm added that each of the DMLS station can be sold for more than RMB10m ($1.6m).

In an earlier article on Seatrade Maritime news, it was mentioned that the use of 3D printing in the maritime market could help to reduce cost and environmental impact associated with supplying spares to vessels. There was an example that Maersk Tankers had conducted a 3D printing experiment on board one of its ships, exploring the idea of printing its own parts on the vessel rather than transporting the parts to the ship.

metal 2So what would be the next step for CSIC’s 705th Research Institute? The institute said that in order to continue with its development of 3D printing technology, it will expand its material manufacturing base in Kunming and establish a prototype technology center in Yunnan province.

These developments will help to increase production under DMLS and kickstart related facilities for 3D printing technology, at the same time continue with R&D and value-added services. The institute will also employ the use of the common technology for 3D printing – the non-metallic Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) which works by passing a filament of thermoplastic through a heated nozzle.

Images showing components produced via DMLS of 3D printing technology