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Published: 11 September 2017      

3D-printed ship's propeller

A prototype of the world’s first class-approved ship’s propeller has been produced using 3D printing techniques

The 1,350mm diameter propeller - named WAAMpeller - is the result of a cooperative consortium of companies that includes Damen Shipyards Group, RAMLAB, Promarin, Autodesk and Bureau Veritas.

The WAAMpeller was fabricated from a nickel aluminium bronze (NAB) alloy at RAMLAB (Rotterdam Additive Manufacturing LAB) in the Port of Rotterdam. The propeller was produced with the wire arc additive manufacturing (WAAM) method using a Valk welding system and Autodesk software.

The triple-blade structure uses a Promarin design that is used on Damen’s Stan Tug 1606. With production complete, the WAAMpeller will be CNC-milled at Autodesk’s manufacturing facility in Birmingham, UK.

"This prototype 3D-printed propeller represents a steep learning curve of the understanding of material properties," says Kees Custers, Project Engineer in Damen’s R&D department. “This is because 3D-printed materials are built up layer by layer.

"As a consequence, they display different physical properties in different directions - a characteristic known as anisotropy. Steel or cast materials, on the other hand, are isotropic - they have the same properties in all directions.”

Because of this critical difference, one of the first steps was to carry out extensive testing of the material properties of the printed material to ensure compliance to Bureau Veritas standards. “This involved printing two straightforward walls of material – then using a milling machine to produce samples for lab testing of tensile and static strengths.”

It can also be said that the 400kg WAAMpeller sets a milestone in terms of 3D printing production techniques, adds Damen. “The challenge has been to translate a 3D CAD file on a computer into a physical product," said Mr Custers."This is made more complex because this propeller is a double-curved, geometric shape with some tricky overhanging sections.”

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