“Boat building is a long-winded and tedious business, even when what is going down the slipway is a small craft made from modern materials such as fibreglass, rather than something nailed together out of planks of wood. Construct a mould. Build up layers of resin and glass fibre inside that mould. Extract the completed structure and finish it,” explained an article in the Science and technology edition of The Economist. Simplified this description may be, but the journalist has nailed the processes that are so familiar in the construction of superyacht tenders and certain production vessels. However, is a more time and cost-efficient manufacturing process that far away from becoming a reality?

On 10 October 2019, 250 federal and state representatives joined business executives and leaders from University of Maine to witness the UMaine Advanced Structure and Composites Center receive three Guinness World Record for the world’s largest prototype polymer 3D printer, the largest solid 3D-printed object and the largest 3D-printed boat.

The 3Dirigio, as the vessel is known, is eight metres long, 2.2 tons and took 72 hours to make, thanks to the use of an enormous 3D printer. Indeed, according to the University of Maine, the new 3D printer is designed to print objects as large as 30m long, 6.7m wide and three metres high, which, if you ignore the height restrictions, is near enough the minimum requirements for a vessel to be described as a superyacht.

While height is a clear issue, it is not unfathomable that modular sections up to three metres high could be printed, nor indeed that the printers of the future will not be bound by such restrictions. While 72 hours represents a dramatic reduction in build time, researchers also believe that the use of such technology, once it becomes more widely available, will also dramatically reduce build costs.

If the idea of printing superyacht tenders, or indeed superyachts, doesn’t sound as farfetched as it did a few years ago, the UMaine Advanced Structure and Composites Center has another trick up its sleeve.

The ‘ink’ used for the printing process is in fact a molten thermoplastic resin that contains carbon fibres. Neither plastic nor carbon are desirable building materials when one considers the environmental foot print of a product. The university, therefore, intends to use natural local resources to replace the carbon fibres with cellulose fibres sourced from New England’s vast sustainable forestry industry. The aim, according to a spokesperson from the Composites Center, is to 3D print with a material that contains 50 per cent wood matter and that would be of equivalent strength and weight to aluminium. The hulls created by such a material could also be recycled and used again for future projects.

It may yet be some time until the industrial use of large 3D printers becomes common place. Indeed, it will still be a number of years before such technology is taken on by early adopters. However, the benefits of such technology are clear to see.


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