Rotterdam is Europe’s largest port, handling 465 million tons of cargo annually. Its appropriately named Innovation Dock is now home to RAMLAB, the first field lab equipped with 3D metal printers to serve maritime and port-related industries.
RAMLAB—Rotterdam Additive Manufacturing Laboratory—carries out research and development aimed at making wire arc additive manufacturing (WAAM) technology commercially viable. WAAM can produce large metal parts using the freeform method. An electric arc applies heat to steel wire feedstock. The system is fast, less expensive than metal casting and is especially suited for producing propellers and other one-off components. It makes it possible to print steel elements onto generic stock items.
While additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, already has been used to manufacture propellers, they have been small and made of plastic materials. The RAMLAB team thinks that additive manufacturing will reshape industry. Its stated aim is to work toward a future in which components can be printed on demand.
RAMLAB currently has two WAAM systems. One moves along six-meter rails to weld things like lifting hooks and manufacture objects larger than one cubic meter. The other measures three by four meters, has a manipulator and is used to produce propellers up to about two meters in diameter.
In addition to lower cost, major WAAM benefits include its efficiency and its customization capacity. Building up objects one layer at a time, the process uses only the necessary amount of material with near zero waste. This saves energy and raw materials, making products more environmentally sustainable.
The Port of Rotterdam Authority has a large network of partners and members in this project. NauticExpo e-magazine asked RAMLAB project leader Jurjen Duintjer about progress to date. He would only say, “It’s a trial. We are carrying out research on what 3D metal printing can mean for the port. There’s not much more to tell at the moment.”