There are many compelling reasons why 3D printing could disrupt how a wide range of boats get built. Consider the pros and cons of 3D printing in general:
- Speed – Complex designs can be uploaded from a CAD model and printed faster than traditional manufacturing processes. Speed also means you can rapidly iterate a product to make rapid improvements.
- Single-Step Manufacture – When a product is produced in a single step, it reduces the dependence on different manufacturing processes – machining, welding, painting.
- Cost – 3D printing makes products in a single step, reducing machine operation for many complex parts. Materials cost is where 3D printing can be much higher. Labor costs of 3D printing are almost zero copared to traditional manufacturing.
- Risk Mitigation – 3D printing can elminate potential for human error in complex manufacturing.
- Design Freedom – when many parts and pieces are constructed in a single step, designers are far less constrined by the manufacturing process.
- Customization – Every product can be customized to a customer’s preferences.
It’s no surprise then that yacht builders are actively experimenting with 3D printing. The biggest benefits for yacht builders is speed for those who want to shorten lead times for customers and design freedom to enable customers and designers to make unique boats in small batches – or for a single customer.
We reported earlier about a comany making very large 3D printers that sold their first two units to yacht builders. Certainly some builders are looking at entire boats while others are utilizing 3D printing for individual parts, including hardware and cabinetry. In spite of all the advances and experimentation, 3D printing appears to be progressing slowly in the world of yacht building. It’s quite possible that the capital investment in large-sized printers and the high cost of the filament are limiting application to higher end yachts. But like many technologies that start at the high end of a market, you can generally expect migration down to a larger mid market.
Here are some examples of applications.
Hanse announced in 2016 that it would make a 3D15 yacht using a 66-foot 3D printer, but there has been little news of it since. At the time, Hanse stated “the new Hanse 3D15 will thus be a wooden yacht. With the new hull print production we want to manufacture not only more powerful hulls but also reduce the production times significantly in order to satisfy the high demand of our customers. As a result of the 3D print, the Hanse individualization concept can be implemented in every possible way.”
So how do you print a yacht in 3D in wood? You use a wood filament, which can be light and strong. Here’s a video demo of how wood filament is used in 3D printing.
In 2017, Hinckley announced a very progressive design, called the Dasher, an all-electric “picnic boat” for a mere $550K. As part of the execution, Hinckley 3D printed components out of titanium. Since this was a very unique, expensive craft that would be produced in low numbers, executing parts using 3D printings makes perfect sense, especially if the price point is going to be high to begin with.
Livrea, a boat builder based in Palermo, Italy, claims to build the first boat using 3D printing. It’s called the Lancia 510. It’s a daysailer that looks like it was made using traditional boat building techniques with wood. But not unlike Hanse, there is no recent news about the boat. It’s hard to tell if it is still in production as the web site’s last news entry was in 2016.
Thermwood, a manufacturer of CNC printers in Dale, Indiana, has a lne of printers for the marine industry. The three-axis systems machine wood, acrylic and non ferrous metal components. Large table machines are used for machining internal bulkheads and structural members. Large envelope five-axis systems up to sixty feet long produce original patterns and molds and are also used to trim major fiberglass and composite components.
Here’s a time lapse video of a Thermwood machine making a mold for a fiberglass boat.
It doesn’t feel like mass produced 3D printed boats will be available soon, but with the continued R&D among larger yacht builders, it seems inevitable. The fact that they may end up being made out of wood makes it even more intriguing. Rather than filling up landfills with discarded fiberglass, maybe boat owners can simply compost their boats or feed them into a wood chipper when they reach the end of the road.