3D printing is a potential game changer for shipping, and could result in new designs for more efficient components as well as a new approach to spare parts.

While there are many signs that the trend is towards ever larger scale in the container segment, some of the more innovative designs in the next decade will focus on niche sectors like offshore wind service vessels and short sea shipping.



Significant advances in 3D printing technology over the last decade are transforming the way in which products are designed, prototyped, and manufactured.

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Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is a manufacturing method that builds objects by laying down successive thin layers of material until the object takes its final form.

It has fewer design restrictions that constrain conventional manufacturing processes, and has the potential to shorten manufacturing time significantly. A major aircraft engine manufacturer claims that 3D printing has reduced manufacturing time for some applications by almost a third.

These advances offer possibilities for novel designs, as well as more lightweight products, with shorter production times and reduced costs. The technology is already being used for rapid prototyping, but it is now gradually being integrated into existing manufacturing infrastructure, for example in the automotive and aircraft-manufacturing industries. Although, oil & gas and maritime industries constitute only about 5% of the total additive manufacturing market, it is anticipated that its reach in these industries will increase rapidly.

The US Navy has started testing the technology on board ships, to evaluate the   potential of producing spare parts and other equipment as needed. However, this requires trained personnel on board, and the printer will be subject to the motions of the ship, potentially affecting product quality. A more promising approach would be to use the technology in the production phase, for lightweight parts or complex parts that cannot be manufactured easily with conventional techniques. Another application could be producing spare parts locally in ports around the world, as required, thereby reducing delivery times and costs.

There are some risks that should be considered.

Qualification and certification may present significant challenges because of the potential for variability in specified properties. The traditional qualification methods of repeated testing of an end product produced from a centralized facility will not be sufficient. The distributed nature of additive manufacturing means that the product variability determined for one location may be entirely different for another location owing to software and hardware differences, or other factors. An additional or ‘second order’ downside of additive manufacturing for shipping is that the distributed production of manufactured goods may reduce the overall demand for shipping of goods – a trend that will warrant careful analysis as additive manufacturing reaches scale.

Worldwide 3D Printing Industry Forecast

Source: Smarttechmarkets Publishing (2014)



Shipping is a diversified and continuously evolving industry, serving an ever-greater variety of customers and needs. The mix and size of vessels changes constantly in response to technological advances and economic developments.

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Typical examples are the decline of reefers, due to the proliferation of refrigerated containers, and the rise of LNG carriers due to the increased need for transportation of natural gas.

It is very likely that the recent trend towards larger container vessels will continue over the next ten years. Larger ships offer substantially improved transport efficiency over smaller ones, and the on-going consolidation in the container segment will enhance this trend. Other developments, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, the widening of the Panama and Suez Canals, and the expansion of several ports for handling larger vessels all signal even larger ships in the next decade.

Future ship types will include vessels for offshore wind farm development, to serve the needs of a rapidly growing industry. These vessels will cover all activities from installation to maintenance and support. With wind farm developments further from the coast, vessels designed for safe and comfortable transfer of technicians from the shore to turbines will be in high demand.

In an effort to reduce road congestion, local pollution, and traffic accidents, many countries are considering moving more cargo from the road to short sea shipping. New vessels, specifically designed for such operations, have the potential to contribute substantially to improving efficiency and reducing costs. These vessels can be tailor-designed for specific geographical areas and trade volumes, in order to optimize their size and efficiency. Due to the nature of the trade, advanced solutions such as electrification can be adopted.

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