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Europe’s first 3D-printed motorboat

An almost faithful reproduction of one of the most popular motorboat models in the Nordic countries has been 3D printed. The boat is one of only a handful in the world that have been printed in one piece and successfully launched, and is the result of a collaboration between Cipax and RISE. The 4.2-metre-long boat is a step forward for additive manufacturing, and may soon generate new revenue streams and business models for the company Cipax and its Pioner brand.

The excitement was palpable at the launch of the 3D-printed boat on 16 December in the Gothenburg archipelago.

– “We expected the boat to hold, but we were nervous up to the last moments,” says Emil Johansson, Researcher and Project Manager at RISE. “But in the end, everything went as planned, and the boat held when we launched it, which was perhaps the most critical moment.”

When the boat was created at the end of November, it was still uncertain whether it would be able to launch in the Swedish West Coast’s strong autumn winds. Technical adjustments and quality assurance processes must still be carried out, and certifications must be obtained, before 3D-printed motorboats enter the commercial market. But the fact that the Pioner 14 Active, one of Cipax’s best-selling recreational boats, has been printed in one piece, instead of being cast in a mould as is standard, is revolutionary.

– “With this technology, we get far greater freedom in the design of our boats,” asserts Dag Eirik R. Thomassen, CEO of Cipax. “We are no longer bound to a mould, but can freely make adjustments or additions, and then easily send the design file to the printer.”

Huge interest in customised solutions

There is already considerable interest in custom-built boats among the company’s customers. On the website, customer can choose the colour, motor, side rails, and more. With additive manufacturing, the boats can be customised to a much greater extent. For example, if a customer wants to make the boat 20 centimetres shorter, or have their children’s faces on the bow as a design detail, it will be entirely possible.

Other customers have more professional needs:

– “We have the police, fire service and Swedish Armed Forces among our customers. We will be able to adapt the boats to meet their specific needs in terms of reconnaissance equipment, gas masks and diving gear.”

As an industrial operator, we want to work closely with the latest research

No moulds

An advantage of 3D printing is that individual copies can be produced without the cost skyrocketing, since no moulds are required, but one of its challenges is the need for large amounts of support materials, which generates waste. However, by cleverly modifying the original boat design for 3D printing, it was possible to produce it with less than 4 percent generated material waste.

– “When additive boat manufacturing begins in earnest, I expect that many customers will choose to buy the design from us and then have it manufactured locally,” says Thomassen.

Different type of plastic required

Another challenge is achieving product-specific properties. For example, according to current regulations, a recreational boat must remain buoyant even if it is filled with water. The newly produced 3D boat almost manages this – the key word being ‘almost’.

– “It depends on the material,” says Jan Johansson, Researcher at RISE. “3D printing requires a different type of plastic, and that it is mixed with fibreglass to prevent collapse when it is printed layer upon layer. This makes the density slightly higher, which means it is denser than water. Before 3D-printed boats can be sold commercially, it will probably be necessary to add floats of some sort.”

The boat was developed in a collaboration between Cipax, owner of Pioner, and RISE, within the research project DiLAM. The project investigated new ways of manufacturing large-scale products using industrial robotic arms, such as flexible 3D printers. The project is funded by VINNOVA, the Swedish Energy Agency, and Formas through the strategic innovation programme Produktion2030.

– “Combining 3D printing with industrial robots and new materials presents new opportunities for flexible and resource-efficient production of innovative large-scale products,” says Emil Johansson. “This is not only useful in the marine industry but also in the automotive, construction, aerospace and furniture industries. By providing support along the entire value chain – from design to finished product – we at RISE want to drive forward the development of additive manufacturing in the industry.”

Looking to stay one step ahead

Cipax, which is best known for its containers and tanks for the transport industry, has chosen to collaborate with RISE in the development of additive manufacturing to stay one step ahead of the competition. 

– “As an industrial operator, we want to work closely with the latest research,” says Thomassen. “Innovation is the most important factor if you want to be profitable in the years to come, succeed with your products, and maintain a high pace of development.”

Thomassen does not believe that 3D-printed boats will replace traditionally built models straight away, but rather function complementarily. One reason is the time factor. Using a mould, a new boat can be produced in one hour, whereas, at present, 3D printing takes three days.

Published: 2021-10-20

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Lenny Tönnäng

Forsknings- och utvecklingsingenjör

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