WAAMpeller is the world’s first 3D printed ship’s propeller

3D printing is a great way to produce quickly and effectively, and the relatively new technique is slowly seeping through in all kinds of fields. RAMLAB (Rotterdam Additive Manufacturing LAB), in collaboration with various organisations, has created the WAAMpeller, the world’s first 3D printed ship’s propeller for the maritime sector.

RAMLAB is the first field lab with 3D metal printers that focuses on the maritime industry. The prototype propeller is 1,350 mm in diameter, made from a nickel aluminium bronze alloy, and weighs about 400 kilograms (882 pounds).

The goal of the project is to build more efficient, cost efficient, and environmentally friendly ships. 3D printing is a great medium for that, as it uses the minimum amount of material required and works mostly autonomously.

Because 3D printed materials are built up layer by layer, they display different physical properties in different directions: a characteristic known as anisotropy. Steel or casted 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.

The printing of the propeller was rather complex, as the propeller has a double-curved, geometric shape with some tricky overhanging sections. But with additive manufacturing, you can print most metallic components, so there is a lot of potential for the future.

This first prototype WAAMpeller will be used for display purposes, and planning for a second example is already underway, which the team aims to install later this year.

The collaboration of companies working on the propellers consists of Damen Shipyards Group, RAMLAB, Promarin, Autodesk and Bureau Veritas.

Aside from the huge WAAMpeller, RAMLAB also 3D prints smaller ship’s propellers from stainless steel.

Photos: RAMLAB / Port of Rotterdam / Materia