Merchant ship owners will now use 3D printing technology. Source: Shutterstock

Merchant ship owners will now use 3D printing technology. Source: Shutterstock

Merchant ship owners to produce spare parts on demand using 3D printing

MERCHANT ships are massive — often spanning a few hundred feet — and have thousands of moving parts.

Given the progress made by cross-border trade and commerce post-globalization, and the recent rise of e-commerce, more than 50,000 ships undertake nearly half-a-million voyages every year.

To avoid catastrophes while at sea, merchant ships need to be serviced often. One of the major costs that merchant ship owners have to account for when it comes to maintenance is the inventory cost of spare parts given the number of spares that must be carried at any given time.

The other challenge to effective maintenance is that ships travel from one port to another during its voyage. If something needs to be repaired when it is not at its home, spares must be sent to the port where it is docked.

This process can take time and cause unforeseen delays, resulting in losses not only for ship operators but also for those that own the cargo — especially if it is perishable.

To overcome this challenge, merchant ship operator Wilhelmsen is trialing the use of 3D printing technology to create customized spare parts, on-demand.

According to Freightcomms, Wilhelmsen has joined hands with Carnival Maritime, Thome Ship Management, OSM Maritime Group, Berge Bulk, and Executive Ship Management for the project — in Singapore — with support from NUS Enterprise and the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA).

The facility will provide spare parts to the company’s own ships as well as those owned and operated by its partners, across the globe.

Wilhelmsen told media that a unique digitization and certification process will be used to produce parts on-demand, circumventing the time-consuming and costly storage, shipping, customs and receiving processes.

“The savings from reduced cost, time and environmental footprint provided by 3D printing, digital inventory and on-demand localized manufacturing of maritime spare parts is a tremendous opportunity for our valued subscribers to be ahead of their rivals,” says Wilhelmsen 3D Printing Head of Venture Hakon Ellekjaer.

“We believe on-demand manufacturing technologies are going to completely reshape the maritime supply chain.”

Although the pilot project has just been launched by Wilhelmsen, it seems that the company had been thinking about this particular 3D printing use case for a while now.

The company had participated in a market feasibility study on additive manufacturing for one hundred of the most commonly ordered marine parts in Singapore, initiated by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), the Singapore Shipping Association, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster and conducted by DNV GL.

“MPA is very encouraged by Wilhelmsen driving the 3D printing early adopters program, together with her partners,” said MPA Chief Executive Quah Ley Hoon.

“Additive manufacturing or 3D printing is an emerging technology, which has the potential to be a game-changer for the maritime sector. There is much opportunity for maritime enterprises to seize the potential of 3D printing technology and build up their capabilities in this area.”

While actual cost benefits or efficiencies are yet to be realized, the project is expected to be a success, and be scaled up to accept other partners.