Additive manufacturing (AM), also referred to as 3D printing, is a common name for technologies where an object is manufactured layer by layer. Additive manufacturing enables the building of three-dimensional, solid objects from digital models, and thus the realisation of complex parts. This is in contrast with many traditional manufacturing methods, where the final parts are machined out from a pre-made form.

AM is expected to revolutionise the way products are designed, manufactured and distributed. The technology will enable new supply chains and on-site 3D printing of spare parts, adding value in many areas including shorter lead times, less storage and reduced inventory, as well as reducing carbon footprints. AM will also enable technological innovation and novel designs with high complexity, new repair methods and the use of unconventional or new materials.

DNV GL believes that AM has the potential to transform the maritime industry’s supply chain. “For the superyacht industry, it could mean mass customisation as opposed to mass production – traditionally to make something cost effective it had to be mass produced, but with 3D printing there is no reason why everything you manufacture can’t be different,” explains Simon Ratcliffe, business transformation manager at DNV GL. “Other benefits for the industry include the ability to use more innovative materials, such as titanium, and have access to spare parts on demand.”

Ratcliffe also points out that one day the industry might see 3D printed hull forms, which is already happening in the boating market on smaller scale. In 2019, Tahoe Boats made its first hull mould using 3D printing. Working with Thermwood Corporation, the boat manufacturer used the composite company’s large-scale additive manufacturing system to print the mould for the new Tahoe T16. The University of Maine also recently broke the Guinness world record for the largest printed vessel and the largest 3D-printed solid object

AM is already disrupting supply chains in automotive, aerospace and consumer products. As DNV sees it it, it is in its infancy in the maritime sectors as they ponder challenges similar to those that confronted Netflix in the transition from DVDs to online streaming of video. As well as novel profit/cost models, the supply chain is grappling with intellectual property (IP) and usage rights for OEM designs, and standardisation of technology interfaces.

The challenge now is to get all stakeholders in the maritime industries talking and looking at the best ways to ensure that everyone benefits from AM. DNV has initiated several joint industry projects with customers globally in certification and qualification areas of AM for reconditioning old parts or creating on-demand new spare parts, and for fabrication of large-scale structural parts.

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