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November 28, 2016

Royal IHC: ‘RAMLAB is more than 3D printing, it’s about being present’

For an individual company, exploring the possibilities of additive manufacturing (also known as 3D printing) can be difficult and costly. A 3D metal printer is a big investment and requires a lot of knowledge. Meanwhile, the success of 3D printed parts is not guaranteed. Establishing a professional network in the field and being up to date with the latest applications of 3D printing in the offshore and maritime sectors is also better done in collaboration with other interested parties. These are some of the reasons for Dutch ship builder Royal IHC to join RAMLAB, according to project leader Ismail Hemmati: “As a supplier of innovative and efficient equipment, vessels and services to the offshore, dredging and wet-mining markets, we are among the potential future clients to make use of this technology and we like to get involved at an early stage.”

Selecting WAAM-technology
Royal IHC took an active part in RAMLAB’s predecessor – a pilot project to 3D print marine spare parts which later played a key role in choosing the printing technology for RAMLAB. Ismail recalls: “We had a number of brainstorming sessions with the other partners in which we discussed our needs and wishes for the new lab. We concluded that we would like to see a Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM) welding machine which can print relatively large parts at a high quality and reasonable cost and time. “RAMLAB will have two 3D printers at its disposal, capable of producing big metal parts.” Hemmati is excited about being able to print parts at RAMLAB and join in this collaborative effort. “It is still a new technology and there is so much to discover. Now, if we need a large metallic part, we can go to RAMLAB and print it.”

Printing critical parts
Royal IHC is especially interested in printing parts that currently involve a lot of machining, as well as parts needed in small quantities and at short lead times. Hemmati: “So if there’s a block of material and we need to machine most of it, it could be easier to print it. Examples are: parts for cranes, for pipe-laying systems, for winches or for hydraulic systems. I don’t think we will start with critical parts, because it is a new technology and it needs to be tested thoroughly. We will start with parts that are less demanding. When they are tested with good results and we feel more confident, we will move on to more critical parts.”

Open collaborative environment
There are some key aspects of RAMLAB that are important to Royal IHC. First of all, the fact that RAMLAB is an open collaborative effort focused on innovation. Participants not only include port authorities, but also companies, universities and research institutes. Such a conglomerate makes it a very valuable environment for learning and sharing ideas. Hemmati: “RAMLAB is a place where different organisations cooperate to learn about this new technology, to expand their networks, to become aware of what other companies look for in this field, and eventually to contribute to a wider application of this new and exciting technology in maritime and offshore industries.”