3D printing is about to change the way yachts are built around the world. Recently, The Wall Street Journal described how a huge 15-ton 3D printer more than 16-feet tall called CFAM is being used to design yachts.
In the article, the owner of the company that makes such printers calls them "the largest 3D printer in Europe and the largest in the world to incorporate glass and carbon fiber into its designs – an important distinction for CFAM’s intended market."
HanseYachts AG, a manufacturer of German luxury vessels, is a yacht company venturing down the yacht fabrication path with 3D printing technology using a 10-meter long hull with its 20-meter-long 3-D printer. They plan to build yachts with such large printers in an industry in which yacht building has been a complex task left to designers and skilled trades with many different types of non-corrosive material, but not typically something that would lend itself to 3D printing.
Times are changing.
Because yachts are often luxurious, customized, or designed for speed and agility for competitive races, they may be well suited for 3D printing. They may be fabricated from specialty composites and other reinforced specialty materials. A significant benefit 3D printing brings to the yacht building industry is the capability to customize yachts swiftly, while incorporating customized styling while expediting the entire fabrication process. 3D printing makes the entire process of yacht design and fabrication easier and more efficient. It also saves time and cost.
Yacht owners usually have their yacht custom-designed to incorporate specific desirable features. For one thing, the hull of a yacht may be specially designed to achieve certain speeds, or reduce wave motion while one is entertaining guests and sailing about. Creating a highly engineered hull form with specialty and unique designs is easier with a 3D printer.
Yacht owners may order specific features to outdo other yacht designs and wow their guests. For example, a better jacuzzi, or a bigger tiki bar, deck seating, fishing deck or platform are among the many things sought after by yacht owners – and something that usually runs up the cost. Suddenly, with 3D printing, such features are not only possible but affordable.
There are five key advantages that 3D printing brings to the yacht fabrication process:
1. Lower costs.
Because a yacht may be custom-designed and then 3D printed, the amount of materials and the speed of fabrication is facilitated greatly and helps trim labor hours and material costs. This simply means that yacht fabricators, as they transfix the industry with 3D printing, may become more competitive with one another as they embrace the technology; those who do not embrace the technology will be at a disadvantage.
Traditionally, yacht building has a higher barrier to entry than most. It takes not only naval architecture and engineering skill, but also requires skilled boat builders able to fabricate to specific designs. Now, with 3D printing, the entire process, from design to build, is easier. It is greatly facilitated with 3D design software, scans, feedstock, and, of course, high-performance 3D printers.
Owner demands on designers and builders to customize yachts to their liking is much easier with 3D printing. It allows for design changes ahead of, or during, fabrication to satisfy owner demands. Now, the jacuzzi, or the location of various staterooms within the cabins, or design quirks about deck seating may be customized easily thanks to the flexibility that 3D printing provides.
4. Less waste and less material.
The business of building yachts has been costly and usually generates residual material in the fabrication process. By some estimates, yacht building generates between 15 and 20 percent wastage from the scrap and the overage in fabrication. With 3D printing, and its reliance on precision and very exact design and fabrication, that number falls to about 2 percent. Lower waste means lower cost. And lower cost is simply an attractive feature of using 3D printing to build yachts.
Perhaps one of the greatest features of using 3D printers to build yachts is the speed by which a yacht may be delivered. 3D printers are able to work continuously, carefully following the engineering design fed into the printer. They will reduce many of the processes involved in the boat building process, which has traditionally been laborious and time consuming. With 3D printing, yacht builders build using modular processes, fabricating different components and parts incrementally, but concurrently while other parts are being fabricated. The duration of fabrication is much more favorable with 3D printing.
Livrea Yacht, an Italian boat builder, has developed a 3D printed yacht . They commissioned a German company to deliver the materials which are composed of thermoplastic polymers, aided by carbon fibers for reinforcement. Their plan is to build a hull form and parts for the craft and sail it in a competition in 2019 – the 2 Mini Transat – a two leg course race covering 4,050 miles from France to the Canary Islands and then to Martinique.
3D printing for yacht fabrication is certainly disruptive. As the Wall Street Journal journalist, Mark Ellwood, stated, "private jets and cranes could be next."
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