Shipping titan Maersk is experimenting with on-board 3D printing.
They’ve apparently installed Stratasys uPrints on at least one ship to provide ready access to some types of spare parts that may be required during the long ocean voyages. Previously, they’d have had to stock spares on board or somehow transport them to the ship at great expense. The presence of a machine onboard that can produce arbitrary parts could be a huge cost and time saver.
Manufacturing machines are no stranger to large oceangoing ships. We recently toured a military vessel that had a well-equipped workshop, but it contained only basic analog manufacturing gear. There is no reason modern ships can’t include CNC machines and, of course, 3D printing for unusually shaped plastic parts.
Maersk selected the uPrint likely because of its reliability and ability to produce very strong parts that can be used in machines.
We’re wondering, though, how Maersk’s makers come by part designs. Are they seagoing capable 3D modelers? Or does Maersk bring along a library of 3D part models from the manufacturer? Perhaps it’s a mix of both. We’ve seen examples of military field use where inventive soldiers simply design new parts to account for previously unknown situations and newly-discovered use cases. Those could also happen on board tankers.
Nevertheless, if Maersk’s experiment is successful, we could soon see 3D printing as standard equipment on board oceanic vessels.