Shipbuilding Industry: 3D Printing Technology Bringing New Opportunities for Shipbuilding

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The global shipbuilding industry has been maintaining a steady growth, mainly fuelled by increasing international imports and exports in recent decades. This industry is responsible for the construction of large commercial vessels intended for the merchant fleet (cargo or passenger transport), the oil container ships, and military ships. Therefore, it plays a crucial part in the regional and global economic development. One of the latest global shipbuilding industry trends has seen 3D printing technology adopted during the ship manufacturing process to improve efficiencies and quality of the products. This trend is expected to facilitate the growth of the global shipbuilding industry over the next 4-5 years.

Shipbuilding Industry Overview

According to the recent market research from Technavio, the global shipbuilding industry is projected to grow by USD 13.14 billion from 2019 to 2023, registering a CAGR of over 2% during the forecast period. One of the key factors contributing to the growth of the global shipbuilding industry is the increasing international seaborne trading. Rapid industrialization and the liberalization of economies coupled with rising consumer products demand are some of the main reasons boosting the trade in the global market.

Advances in technology is another factor contributing to the growth of this industry. Factors such as improved fuel efficiency and multi-fuel engines have made shipping an efficient method of transportation, which is expected to pose higher demand in the global shipbuilding industry.

When it comes the largest shipbuilding countries, although Europe remains a crucial market for the production of cruise vessels, the East Asian region dominates the industry as China, Japan, and South Korea are the largest shipbuilding countries in the world. The leading shipbuilding companies worldwide include Hyundai HI, Daewoo Shipbuilding, China State Shipbuilding Corp. and Samsung HI.

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Global Shipbuilding Market Report 2019-2023

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3D Printing Driving the Future of the Shipbuilding Industry

The adoption of 3D printing technology in shipbuilding is one of the major trends being witnessed in the global market. 3D printing is as a computer-controlled process in which materials are layered consecutively to form objects. Since the application of this technology especially in shipbuilding can bring new approaches for manufacturing a wide-ranging and voluminous number of ship components, the shipbuilding industry is increasingly adopting this 3D printing technology to improve efficiencies and quality of the manufactured part. 3D printing technology is also expected to improve design standards in the global shipbuilding industry.

One of the main applications of 3D printing in shipbuilding industry is a technique called Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS). It is an additive manufacturing process that uses laser as a power source to sinter powdered metal in the space defined by a 3D model. This technique can bind the metal material together to create a solid and high-density structure, which is extremely useful in the shipbuilding process.

Another common application of 3D technology in the shipbuilding is Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) to produce ship parts, which involves using lasers to cure powdered materials, forming to solid material layer by layer. This application is mainly used to create custom items quickly and without the need for expensive tooling. In shipbuilding industry, such 3D technology can be adopted to manufacture and supply ship parts with lower cost and less environment impact. A world’s leading tank ship company Maersk Tankers has already installed 3D printing facilities its vessels, so that the vessel can print its own parts on board rather than transporting a part to the ship.

Moreover, 3D printing technology is also widely adopted in conjunction with a 3D CAD model to create shop prototype during the design process. A 3D printed, exact model of a vessel can be used as the perfect solution for hydrostatic or other testing in a pool or other real-world environment as a complement to computer-aided analysis. It is believed that the global shipbuilding industry will adopt more and more 3D printing applications over the near future.

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