LRF highlights 3D printing benefits to shipping

Richard Clegg, managing director of LRF. Credit: LRFRichard Clegg, managing director of LRF. Credit: LRF

The shipping industry is often deemed as conservative, slow in adopting new technologies, but the times are changing. According to UK registered charity organisation, the Lloyd’s Register Foundation (LRF), a new technology may soon be entering the maritime sector.

“It is almost certain that in the next ten years we will see ships being built having 3D additive printed components with them.” said Michael Fitzpatrick, LRF Chair in Materials Fabrication and Engineering at Coventry University in the UK.

He was referring to the ever-expanding use of 3D additive printing manufacturing that encompasses toy-making to advanced prostheses to living tissue. Now, there is even the possibility for so-called 4D printing, where structures can change shape and objects can become adaptable, changing into self-evolving structures.

Describing this development as “interesting”, Fitzpatrick told IHS Fairplay that the technology is commercially viable for shipping and the industry must be prepared for it.

“This technology is going to come, regardless of maritime industry events, it (3D and 4D printing) will find application and people will want to use it”, he stated.

Fitzpatrick predicts the use of technology will be first used in the manufacturing of small components in ship construction, before moving on to make safety-critical components. 

Thus, he feels that the industry needs to be given time to get used to new technology, and the new materials being made, then they will be convinced to try and use it at greater frequency. Besides, there are also risks in 3D and 4D printing relating to some gaps in knowledge on the ship structural integrity, such as how materials behave at the micro-molecular level.

In the meantime, Richard Clegg, managing director of LRF, highlighted that there are drivers that will attract early-adopters of the new technology based on cost cutting and effectiveness of building structures using 3D and 4D printing.

“LRF is a charitable organisation and aims at making the world a safer place. If there is a technology out there which and could be adopted by the industry to make it safer, then we will like to see the technology being accelerated to application.” he told IHS Fairplay.

“Alternatively, if there are risks associated with that technology, then we will want to ensure that those risks are understood and not just used blindly.” said Clegg.

He also assured that LRF will never introduce a technology to the industry if it knows there is an inherent risk from using the technology and will make sure that it can never be adopted by the industry in the first place.

“We are interested in the (3D and 4D printing) application on projects and how industry can assure itself, how we assure ourselves for the use of it in a safe manner,” added Clegg.

LRF has approached the technology with the mindset of an early adopter, considering what company needs to be aware in terms of safety, and testing the manufactured components for quality to prevent defects.  

In fact, the introduction of 3D and 4D additive printing is just a part of the charity organisation’s research paper comprising a foresight review of structural integrity and systems performance. The review focused on structural integrity and systems performance across various industries such as aerospace, nuclear power, road transportation, renewables as well as the maritime sector.

“Our report highlights the current best practice, technology trends and research needs so that we can enhance safety by fundamentally changing the design, manufacturing and reliability of complex infrastructures from the component to the system.”  concluded Clegg.