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Paving the Way for Large-Scale Steel 3D Printing for Use in Shipbuilding

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Additive manufacturing in the shipbuilding industry faces unique challenges due to the magnitude and size of the parts used for ship structure. Steel castings are used in variety of structural applications where the size and strength requirements cannot be achieved by traditional manufacturing practices. However, steel castings face significant problems such as high costs and long lead times due to a limited number of suppliers, and manufacturing concerns such as porosity and cracking. Implementing additive manufacturing has the potential to alleviate these issues. 

MELD is a solid-state process that creates high-quality wrought materials without the common problems of melt-based technologies. Applying the MELD process to produce castings reduces the price, shipping and lead times in addition to improving structural capabilities of the manufactured parts. The unique open-air operation allows for scaling to magnitudes relevant to the shipbuilding industry. 

The previous National Shipbuilding Research Program (NSRP) project focused on increasing material deposition to prove the feasibility of large scale manufacturing, successfully demonstrating the ability to scale up material deposition capabilities 355%, while maintaining the same material quality and properties as the standard MELD tooling/process.

The current follow-on project aims to expand the MELD process to high-strength steel alloys commonly used in the shipbuilding industry, working toward regulatory approval. Challenges include developing high-temperature and wear-resistant MELD process tooling while maintaining mechanical properties such as hardness and fracture toughness.

While much of traditional 3D printing is not applicable to ship manufacturing, utilizing the MELD process has the potential to improve the industry capability. 

Learning Objectives:

  • Visualize large-scale 3D printed steel structures in shipbuilding.
  • Theorize the potential benefits of advanced tooling.