Will 3D printing bring a wave of change to the shipping industry?

Tags: 3D printing | Autodesk Additive Manufacturing | Fusion 360 boat | Netfabb shipbuilding | Power Mill

The MAMBO boat has sides inspired by the waves of the sea, its shape resembles a fin that tapers towards the stern and it sways gracefully in the water like the sides of the dance partners of the same name. However, this ship is not only remarkable for its appearance – the way it was created is also unique. Behind its birth hides an Italian technology startup, which printed the composite fiber boat on a 3D printer. Shipbuilding seems to be waiting for a revolution…

The name of the boat is an acronym made up of the English words Motor Additive Manufacturing Boat. The vessel is 6.5m long, 2.5m high and weighs 800kg and MAMBO is currently moored at the Catmarine shipyard in southern Italy. It is currently being tested in the waters of the Ionian Sea, but it was already presented to the public in October 2020 at the Genoa International Boat Show. Its designers do not hide how it was created, quite the contrary: they admit that 3D printing has allowed them to offer an innovative design whose production would be unthinkable by traditional methods.

Manual printing has replaced manual printing

Moi Composites startup co-founder Gabriele Natale is behind the whole project. As part of his work at the Polytechnic Institute of Milan, he studies the production of continuous fibers by 3D printing. This method brings greater durability and better material properties as well as new design possibilities.

Natale founded the company with Michel Tonizz and aims to use the results of his research to change the industry, which has always emphasized adherence to tradition: shipbuilding. Ships are made using methods passed down from generation to generation – but at the same time, these technologies have certain limitations. Shipbuilders still rely on manual layering of materials in the production of composites. This is a relatively long process in which continuous fibers are inserted into the mold layer by layer and the whole product is then cured.

Tonizzo and Natale wanted to show the possibilities of automation to shipbuilders engaged in traditional craftsmanship. Thanks to 3D printing, the design of the ship no longer has to take into account the limitations of the production method – and this opens the door to fascinating new design possibilities. At the same time, 3D printing saves material. At Moi Composites, they joined forces with several partners to build the boat – and Autodesk provided Fusion 360, Netfabb, PowerMill and several simulation programs for the project.

One-hull catamaran

“If we hadn’t refined the design of the ship for so long, it would have taken us about three months to print it,” says Dominique Müller, materials expert and researcher at Autodesk, involved in the project from the start.
Dominique says that before going to press, the team spent 6 months simulating the behavior of the boat at sea in bad weather. MAMBO combines elements of a classic single-hull boat and a catamaran. Tonizzo admits the inspiration was the Arcidiavolo ship with a Y-shaped hull, which is backed by British ship designer Renato “Sonny” Levi. Looking at the boat from the front, two hulls are clearly visible, from behind the MAMBO, on the contrary, looks more like a single-hull ship. As for the wavy hips, it was an aesthetic decision rather than a functional one.

Decentralized production

Once the design of the boat was completed, the implementation could begin. According to Tonizzo, the whole process perfectly illustrates how distributed generation works – the ship was built in three different countries. The software experts were from Germany and the 3D printing itself took place at the Autodesk Technology Center in Birmingham and start-up Moi Composites in Milan. Production and communications were handled in the cloud – and even from Milan the team could control what was happening in Birmingham.

Wide-Boat-2106

This may seem to complicate the logistics of the whole project, but this solution was unavoidable – they did not have enough space to print in Milan and did not even have suitable equipment. At that time, the start-up had two fixed multi-axis robotic arms, intended solely for printing parts.

The third robot in Birmingham took care of the rest of the press, so the print jobs could be processed in parallel. Dominique Müller is already planning how to improve the production process next time: if the robot was supplied by a robot located on the rails, the whole boat could be printed as a whole.

Whole-boat-2106

The printed parts of the ship were then transported to the town of Miggiano, located in the imaginary heel of the Apennine peninsula. There the ship assembled at the Catmarine shipyard.

One day the boat may be able to obtain certification and permits for sea voyages, but so far MAMBO serves as a demonstration of what 3D printing can offer the shipping industry. The unique shape of the hull perfectly illustrates what Moi Composites wanted to achieve as early as 2018: ship designers can unleash their own creativity. Modern production methods allow them to deposit any shape on the surface of the water. “Shipbuilders tend to be older – only a handful of young people are involved in the craft,” explains Dominique Müller, adding: “Shipbuilding needs to be transformed, otherwise the whole craft will disappear.”

Credit and photo: Autodesk

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