I’m always amazed by how quickly 3D printing seems to be spreading around the world throughout just about every industry and discipline out there. The technology is being used for new applications daily, and innovative individuals are thinking of ways to both improve the technology itself and the applications they are using it for.
One group of individuals based in Nantes, France, called Lab-REV, has taken the technology to uncharted territory, placing 3D printers aboard sailboats. Lab-REV, is an association which is made up of young engineering and architecture grads who have a desire to find solutions to make boating more environmentally friendly and more economically feasible. Whether it’s energy independent boating, designing vessels that can be upcycled rather than become obsolete, or conserving energy and other resources at seas, Lab-REV is keeping busy.
They’ve been working on an engine that can utilize cooking oil as fuel, built their own GPS navigation units using open source electronics, and, as mentioned above, are placing 3D printers on vessels at seas.
We’ve already seen that the US Navy has been testing large-scale printers on Naval Ships to see if they could print parts, instead of having to have them delivered to the ship, perhaps thousands of miles from land. What Lab-REV is doing is similar, however, they have taken things a step or two further. Not only are they placing a printer on a sailboat, they are printing functional parts for the vessel as well.
“A good solution to navigate at a low cost and with a limited carbon footprint is to buy a used boat, but often there is other equipment to buy as well, which means costs rise quickly, especially if you want to navigate while respecting the environment,” explained Adrien Merchandise, head of the Lab-REV Project.
What Lab-REV realized is that not only can they place printers on boats in case there is an emergency, but they can print parts as well as create environmentally friendly gadgets for the vessels instead of paying hefty fees at retail. For instance they have already 3D printed several interesting gadgets and gizmos. They’ve printed and assembled a prototype wind turbine which acts as a power source for the on-board 3D printer, while they are also working on a more sophisticated hydro power generator. Other items such as anchor cleats, and various brackets or clamps can all be printed on the fly as well, further enabling self sufficiency during an expedition.
So what did Lab-REV decide to do next to test the on board 3D printer and numerous parts which they have printed out of PLA plastic? They decided to embark on a six-month-long, 10,000 km expedition around the Mediterranean Sea and North Atlantic. Originally planning to depart at the end of March, repairs to the vessel have pushed things back a couple of weeks. The team plans to embark on this journey within days, providing them with an invaluable learning experience, and hopefully acting as a stepping stone for widespread environmentally friendly, and safe, sailing.
We wish them good luck and hope they return with a new found knowledge of what 3D printing is capable of on the seas. Let’s hear your thoughts on this amazing journey and how 3D printing is playing a major role. Discuss in the Lab-REV forum thread on 3DPB.com.