Naval Group and Centrale Nantes Create First 3D Printed Military Propeller Blade

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3D printing is making an impact on the maritime industry, which is no small feat considering the number of regulations involved in making anything that can actually be used in the industry. So it was quite a task that a group of partners accomplished when they introduced the WAAMpeller, the world’s first class-approved 3D printed ship’s propeller, last year. The WAAMpeller was created using Wire and Arc Additive Manufacturing, or WAAM, a fast, inexpensive hybrid method of 3D printing.

The WAAMpeller now has some competition in the arena of 3D printed propeller fame. Naval Group, a French industrial group that specializes in naval defense and marine renewable energy, has partnered with fellow French institution Centrale Nantes, a school that has worked with WAAM itself in the past, to create the first full-scale 3D printed propeller blade demonstrator for military applications. The large, complex propeller blade weighs more than 300 kg and paves the way for the manufacture of more geometrically complex propellers in the future.

“Printing this demonstrator is a major step towards the manufacture of innovative propellers by additive manufacturing,” said Vincent Geiger, Director of Naval Group’s Naval Research Technology Research Center. “These initial results mean that it’s possible to envisage the short-term commissioning of differentiated propellers for the ships that will use them.”

The 3D printed propeller blade is another example of a part that could not have been made with more traditional manufacturing processes. By allowing for more innovative designs, additive manufacturing enables naval components that are more efficient, with more autonomy, better propulsion, strength and lightening.

“Additive manufacturing is a process that offers unlimited possibilities: less material used, integration of additional features and geometrically-complex parts assembly,” said Professor Jean-Yves Hascoët, who heads up the Rapid Manufacturing Platform at Centrale Nantes, in the GeM laboratory (UMR CNRS 6183). “It allows for new designs, weight savings, lower manufacturing costs.”

[Image via Centrale Nantes]

Naval Group is the European leader in naval defense, with a presence in 18 countries. The company designs, produces and supports both submarines and surface ships, and provides services for naval shipyards and bases. It also offers a wide range of marine renewable energy solutions.

Centrale Nantes was founded in 1919 and trains engineers in the scientific and technical skills they need to make an impact in the workforce. The school has a strong program in additive manufacturing, and is involved in other research into additive manufacturing and naval applications, including propellers. Its industrial capabilities and expertise in trajectory generation and additive manufacturing make it a valuable partner on this latest project.

From submarine hulls to replacement parts, 3D printing is making its presence known in the naval and marine sectors. The appeal of the technology is the same as it is in other industries such as aerospace and automotive: it’s faster, less expensive, and can create novel geometries with capabilities beyond anything that can be created using conventional manufacturing techniques. Additive manufacturing often results in much more lightweight components, which enable ships, planes and automobiles to be speedier and more efficient, saving both money and energy.

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