3D printing - the future of maritime spare parts?

3D printing is one of the latest technologies hyped as the 'next big thing', with many eager to see it as the next great revolution in manufacturing. In the maritime context, could 3D printing help to make storage of spare parts on board a thing of the past?

One of the advantages of 3D printing is that it enables rapid manufacture of multiple design variations which can then be tested simultaneously. The fast turnaround speeds up the design process – it's very easy to incorporate amendments to designs. 3D printing enables very fast testing of new product designs, which why it's so attractive to manufacturers wanting to trial new products.

Ship design may be affected in many ways. The greatest potential for shipboard application is in the supply department, where 3D printing could replace much of the ship stores of infrequently used parts. Instead of spending weeks tracking down a piece of equipment (or worse, discovering the supply inventory is empty and the subcontractor has gone out of business), a logistics specialist could scan the barcode on the part that needs replacing or do a quick search to find the design and have it delivered by 3DPRINTSONDEMAND in a few days, thus reducing excess void space from oddly shaped or packaged pieces.

And it’s not just standard parts that can be 3D printed. Custom-fit replacements, shoring, and patching would be an easy adaptation. Custom propellers, custom hinges and other convenient parts are now an affordable option.