The boat and ship industry is characterized by numerous boatyards, shipyards, and marinas that for natural reasons are often located in remote coastal areas.

Although many boat and ship components are standard items, the added transportation costs and marine specifications often make parts and components difficult to source and very expensive. Moreover, the marine industry is very sensitive to economic cycles and often previous original equipment suppliers either go out of business or are no longer located in the original jurisdiction. Accordingly, developing 3D printing technology is ideal for this industry and analyzing 3D printer alternatives and integrating them into commercial marine facilities is often eligible for R&D tax credits.

The Research & Development Tax Credit

Enacted in 1981, the federal Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit of up to 13 percent of eligible spending for new and improved products and processes. Qualified research must meet the following four criteria:

  • New or improved products, processes, or software
  • Technological in nature
  • Elimination of uncertainty
  • Process of experimentation

Eligible costs include employee wages, cost of supplies, cost of testing, contract research expenses, and costs associated with developing a patent. On December 18, 2015 President Obama signed the bill making the R&D Tax Credit permanent. Beginning in 2016, the R&D credit can be used to offset Alternative Minimum Tax and startup businesses can utilize the credit against $250,000 per year in payroll taxes.

Spare Parts

Vessels need to have spare parts stocked at all times in case something goes awry and a replacement is necessary. This leads to more space and weight taken up on the vessel related to the spare parts inventory. 3D printers on boats would eliminate the need for an inventory of spare parts. With a 3D printer on deck, many spare parts could be printed on demand. The quick and cost-efficient benefit of having a 3D printer onboard a vessel can dramatically change the way the changing and fixing of parts is managed.

Drip Tray

Although 3D printing may seem like a daunting idea, it is not too difficult for the average person to use. When Roy Kok, a longtime boat owner, was in need of a dripping tray to keep water out of the bilge, a trip to the local Home Depot seemed like the logical answer. Instead, Kok decided to take a shot at making his own part via 3D printing. From designing the drip tray to installing it on his boat, Kok described the experience as being “new world of design and manufacturing and rather than dealing with a shop full of machines, all you need is imagination and a computer.” 3D printing can be a great resource for boat owners when in need of new parts.

Downloadable Designs

The first step in printing an object is designing it through a 3D software. The programs vary from high tech and expensive to basic and cost efficient. Other options include using pre-existing designs made by other people. Websites like Shapeways and Thingiverse allow people to browse and buy different designs to be printed. Existing designs that may be printed to be used as boat parts include sail slides, batten ends, and valve covers.

Practical Boat Owners

In an article for Practical Boat Owner, Ben Meakins wrote of his experience in printing for his own boat. Meakins walks through the process of 3D printing including the design, choosing a printer and filament, and finally printing. He was able to print many parts for his boat including shock cord toggles, turnbuckle boot caps, a locker latch, and shore power faceplate. Meakins explains that “if you enjoy computers and are a practical boat owner, you will doubtless enjoy this merging of your hobbies.”

Olin Robotic Sailing

The Olin Robotic Sailing Team of Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts has been competing in the International Robotic Sailing Regatta for five years. In 2016, they decided to take on the project of building a 4-meter sailboat, a scale up from their usual 1-2 meter boats. Last year’s competition brought many challenges, including the need for a low-profile actuator that would be sturdy enough to withstand a huge gust of wind. Luckily, the college owns a Markforged Mark One 3D printer. Under tight deadlines, the team was able to print a custom mount and actuator in time for the competition. With the quick manufacturing of the part, courtesy of the Mark One printer, the team was able to stay on schedule for the International Robotic Sailing Regatta.

HSVA

HSVA is a private, not-for-profit organization based in Germany that provides research and consultancy services to the maritime industry. They are on the forefront of discovering innovative technology and methods to combat the many problems faced by the maritime industry. In 2013, HSVA purchased an Objet Eden 350V 3D printer in an effort to reduce costs and production time. They were able to create finished rudder parts in less than 24 hours for approximately 280 US dollars. This allows them to provide customers with needed parts faster than ever before, with previous methods taking up to two weeks.

CRP Technology Livrea26

The Italian company, CRP Technology, created a composite SLS material called Windform that “allows for the creation of highly-functional and beautifully finished parts suitable for multiple applications.” In partnership with the Italian boatbuilding company, Livrea, CRP Technology 3D printed a prototype of a modern fishing boat. The Livrea26 will be displayed at the Miami Boat Show. The prototype is a proclamation of the partnership between CRP and Livrea that demonstrates their commitment to revolutionizing the boatbuilding industry with innovative materials, like Windform, and 3D printing.

CRP Technology Mainsail Batten Cars

CRP Technology has also been a pioneer in engineering better and more efficient boat parts including their mainsail batten cars made out of titanium alloy. Traditional batten cars made out of aluminum could not withstand the compression from wind increases for long, spreading it to the local area of the sail, which would quickly result in sail damage and costly repairs. The titanium alloy batten cars consist of lightweight and durable material that guarantees structural strength and resistance to corrosion. In addition to this, the low density of the titanium cars allows it to absorb the force due to compression instead of spreading it to the local sail.

HanseYachts AG

One of the largest yacht manufacturers, HanseYachts based in Germany, started working on plans for a 3D printed hull last year. The company is always searching for innovative ways to build their boats and with the growth of the 3D printing industry, this was easily their next step. Their newest model, the Hanse 3D15, will have a ten-meter-long hull created by a twenty-meter-long printer. It will be a wooden boat made with 60% recycled wood. The creators of the Hanse3D15 are excited to take on 3D printing as it decreases manufacturing time and allows customers to fully customize their yachts.

Conclusion

With an industry as old as the maritime industry, it is important to innovate to keep the business alive and up-to-date. 3D printing has proven to be relevant in the boat business as a way to reduce costs via materials for spare parts and prototyping to prevent errors. From prototyping, to creating parts, and even creating entire vessels, 3D printing has proven to be a vital move in innovation for the maritime industry.


Charles Goulding and Rafaella July of R&D Tax Savers discuss 3D printing and the maritime industry. 

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