Three-dimensional printing makes it as cheap to create single items as it is to produce thousands and thus undermines the principle of manufacturing economies of scale. Application of the technology offers enormous benefit to the marine industry, allowing a swathe to be cut through the spare part supply-chain at the very least, perhaps eventually to take the place of some production processes; but in the meantime it has established a firm foothold in model-making, as will be seen below where the technology produced a subsea tidal turbine.
3D Z Printer 850: Photo courtesy of 3D Systems
For those unfamiliar with the process, 3D printing works by converting 3D CAD engineering drawings into solid objects from nylon powder using laser melting. The object is built, layer by layer, with each layer the thickness of a human hair, and allows designers and engineers to create complex and lightweight parts rapidly.
Rapid prototyping, or 3D printing, (seen as the third industrial revolution in manufacturing) is now widely accepted as a modern product design tool, which provides greater design freedom, faster design process, more efficient materials usage and tool-less manufacturing.
Researchers in Engineering and the Environment at the UK’s University of Southampton have embraced the techniques and have already produced a number of world firsts, including the world's first 3D printed model plane and the first fully rapid prototyped air vehicle, the ASTRA (Atmospheric Science through Robotic Aircraft) Atom, to enable low cost observations of the physical parameters of the atmosphere. Meanwhile, back down on earth, a designer and manufacturer of deep-sea tidal stream electricity generating systems, Ireland’s OpenHydro were wanting a completely accurate scale model of one of its ‘Ocean-Centre’ turbines and turned to a specialist UK 3D printing solutions provider, Ogle Models & Prototypes.
The model-makers explain that turbines are notoriously complex – the engineering and manufacturing requirements are extensive – and this was no less the case for the intricacies of the model that OpenHydro requested from them. While the CAD data that OpenHydro supplied was simplified to a certain degree, the complexities of the design had to be accurately reflected in the fine details of the scaled down model.
3D Marine Turbine model: Image courtesy of Ogle
Ogle’s initial brief from OpenHydro was to produce a 1:43 scale static block model, including specific colour and visual effects and they chose the selective laser sintering (SLS) process as the most capable, durable and cost-effective process for producing a model of this nature and size, which they did remarkably quickly.
Summing up this project, Alan Buggy, Mechanical Design Engineer at OpenHydro commented: “The Ocean-Centre [turbine] model was manufactured and delivered within our deadline, which was not generous to Ogle, but beyond that, compared with any of the other models we had purchased before it was far superior — in terms of the level of detail, the finish and value for money.”