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Increasingly Infinite Options

3D printing technology is now letting companies build a variety of parts and components, including boats
The 25-foot, 3D-printed 3Dirgio center console set a world record when it launched in 2019.

The 25-foot, 3D-printed 3Dirgio center console set a world record when it launched in 2019.

Additive manufacturing is rapidly becoming a go-to technology for companies in the marine industry. While some choose to outsource, others are taking advantage of the rapidly dropping price of 3D printers. Some entities can print entire boats.

The technology has come a long way since what’s believed to be the first mention of 3D printing, in a 1974 New Scientist column. David Jones, writing under the pen name Daedalus, published a satirical column that accurately imagined the stereolithography (SLA) process. In real life, today, SLA uses a laser to cure liquid resin into hardened plastic. It’s one of the most common types of additive manufacturing.

In 1986, Chuck Hull filed the first patent for SLA technology, along with the STL file format and digital slicing software. The next year, Hull formed 3D Systems and released the first commercial 3D printer, the SLA-1.

When the major patents expired in 2014, alternatives could be designed to the six- or seven-figure types. Hobbyists jumped into the market, helping to bring prices down. Today, sophisticated printers can be purchased for a few hundred dollars, and the mediums they use include flexible materials, metals and fiberglass.

For boatbuilders, this means there are options, either for outsourcing or buying the 3D printers themselves.

Roswell uses a Prusa i3 3D printer to manufacture speaker grills.

Roswell uses a Prusa i3 3D printer to manufacture speaker grills.

Hinckley Yachts Chooses Outsourcing

Companies such as Hinckley outsource 3D printing work. To produce consoles and tooling, it partnered with the University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center, which works with more than 500 companies. UMaine has printed entire boats, including 3Dirigo, a 25-foot center console that set a Guinness record in 2019 as the largest 3D boat ever built.

For large projects, UMaine uses an Ingersoll Machine Tools printer that cost $2.5 million to build and produces objects 100 feet long by 22 feet wide by 10 feet high. The printer has an extruding filament rate of 500 pounds an hour, and tolerances are within 6,000th of an inch. This year, UMaine was contracted by the U.S. Department of Defense to produce two 3D-printed vessels: one capable of transporting two 20-foot-long shipping containers, and another that can carry a U.S. Marine Corps rifle squad with three days of supplies.

According to Scott Bryant, Hinckley’s vice president of sales and product development, the boatbuilder’s partnership with UMaine was initiated by the university.

“They ended up printing a six-part upper console for the [electric-powered] Dasher, which was unveiled in 2017,” he says. “The tight tolerances required to achieve this aesthetic made 3D printing the perfect process for this part. We used other vendors for our titanium hardware, which included engine controls, to give it a custom look and feel.”

UMaine was also contracted to 3D-print direct female tooling for the upcoming Hinckley Talaria 57. The builder says the process should speed up the time-to-market of the low-volume model.

“We’re a technology-forward company,” Bryant says, “and we pride ourselves on being on the leading edge, as opposed to the bleeding edge, which requires constant, massive infusions of cash to always have the latest technology.”

Netherlands-based Tanaruz is on track to produce 100 boats this year using this 3D printer made by ABB.

Netherlands-based Tanaruz is on track to produce 100 boats this year using this 3D printer made by ABB.

Roswell Keeps It In-House

Roswell Global keeps its 3D printing in-house by acquiring machines as needed to produce prototypes and components for its lines of audio equipment, towers and marine accessories.

“We primarily use 3D printing as a tool in our research-and-development department for rapid prototyping,” says John Runske, director of product design and engineering. “It allows us to quickly test our products and see how they perform.”

For more than 15 years, Roswell has had in-house 3D printers available to the R&D team. It currently has seven. “The cost for a good, reliable 3D printer has fallen drastically in the last five years,” Runske says. “For example, we use a $750 Prusa i3 3D printer to make speaker grills, among other things.”

Roswell typically uses polyethylene terephthalate glycol (PETG), which is similar to water bottle plastic, for its printed prototypes because of the inexpensive material’s resistance to impact and temperature. It also uses several other materials, including one called thermoplastic elastomer, or TPE.

“Being able to print TPE was instrumental in the development of Roswell’s R-Flex featured on the Triton II strapless board rack,” Runske says.

Tanaruz Is All-In

Tanaruz, a company based in the Netherlands, is on pace to build more than 100 boats in 2022 using a 46-foot-long 3D printer made by ABB. The printer robot is mounted on a track motion system that expands its reach, and multiple printers can be mounted on a track to speed production. All of Tanaruz’s boats are made from recycled polypropylene with 30 percent glass fibers that can be reused to build new boats.

The company’s goal is to manufacture 300 boats this way in 2023 — which may sound substantial within the marine industry, but is a minuscule part of the entire 3D printing industry.

In 2021, Grand View Research valued the global market at $13.84 billion, with an estimate that it will reach $16.75 billion this year. By 2030, it’s projected to hit more than $76 billion.

Globally, 2.2 million 3D printers were shipped in 2021, and shipments are expected to reach 21.5 million units by 2030. The metal segment accounted for more than a 50 percent share of global revenue in 2021. 

This article was originally published in the July 2022 issue.

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