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Manufacturing Parts on Demand at Europe's Busiest Port

  • The Rotterdam Additive Manufacturing Lab started as a pilot program in the Port of Rotterdam, created to make the port the smartest in the world.
  • RAMLAB is incorporating additive manufacturing in its work to speed up production and reduce waste in the maritime industry.
  • Manufacturing on demand is different from traditional manufacturing in that parts are only produced as needed.

The Port of Rotterdam was once the busiest port in the world—not just Europe. Now, it is striving to become the smartest port in the world. One way it’s looking to achieve that is by investing in new initiatives such as the Rotterdam Additive Manufacturing Lab (RAMLAB) that bring new technology and innovation to the maritime industry. RAMLAB plans to use additive manufacturing to ensure that industrial spare parts are always available—on demand.

"We did a study in 2015 together with all kinds of offshore maritime companies, and from that pilot, the Port of Rotterdam, they asked us, 'Okay, how can we continue this pilot after this is finished?'" says Vincent Wegener, managing director of RAMLAB. "We came up with the plan to set up the lab, and they approved, and we started last year."

How Conventional Manufacturing Falls Short

RAMLAB  is trying to solve several problems. One is, the conventional way of manufacturing begins with large parts being cast. When the part is cast, the mold is made. Then the part has to be post-processed and transported. It can take up to six months to a year before a part arrives.

"For many of the end users, they are partners of RAMLAB; they would like to see that shortened." says Wegener. "So if you can make a part in a few days, a lot of companies will be helped with that."

"There are a lot of warehouses in the Port of Rotterdam. There are studies that have been done that 70 percent is never used. Never. Spare parts will never be used, so it’s a waste of a lot of resources," says Wegener. "So from that perspective, they’re saying, 'Well, how can we disrupt ourselves? How can we go to a world where you have a digital warehouse, or you no longer have these physical warehouses?'"

Welding Meets Generative Design to Manufacture on Demand

"The process we are using is wire arc additive manufacturing. Basically, it’s welding but then 3D welding. It took about 240 hours to make the propellers. So, 10 days, full time, nonstop," says Wegener.

Wire arc additive manufacturing (WAAM) combines gas metal arc welding and 3D printing. By using the two methods to repair broken parts and molds, complex shapes can be printed at a lower cost. Materials are only used as needed, so expensive materials can be used as needed.

"The maritime and offshore world, they have strict rules and certification. So the challenge for us was not only to make a part but also to certify it," says Wegener. "If you cannot get the certifying partner, like BV or Lloyd’s on board, then it’s no use to start making parts. So we involved them from the start."

"My personal drive is, I love tech. I love innovation, and the thing is, you always see it’s out there somewhere on the other side of the world—they’re doing this. Why not here in Rotterdam? That was my personal drive," says Wegener. "Why shouldn’t we do this here? You can achieve a lot with a small team. It’s the typical path from the nonbelievers to believers."

This article has been updated. It originally published in January 2018.

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