Shipping Developments

3D Printing


Defense contractor Naval Group has manufactured an entirely 3D printed propeller for a French Navy ship.

The company used its own specially developed DED-based process for the job, which it calls metal wire fusion. Sporting a 2.5-meter span and five individual 200kg blades, the propeller is reportedly the largest thruster of its kind to be 3D printed, and the first to be manufactured using Naval Group’s own process.

Having left the Naval Group site of Nantes-Indret back in October, the propeller was mounted onto the intermediate shaft of the Andromède, a Tripartite-class minehunter, a month later. Then, December saw the successful completion of a series of sea trials with the propeller, cementing its place on all of the ship’s upcoming operational missions.

Meeting defense-grade quality requirements

It’s safe to say military ships operate under some pretty harsh conditions, relating to corrosion, fatigue, and shock resistance to name a few. As such, their production must be held to equally harsh quality requirements. For the SSF (Fleet Support Services) and the DGA (French Defence Procurement Agency) to even authorize the testing of the blades in normal operating conditions, Naval Group had to work very closely with the certification company Bureau Véritas to develop a comprehensive technical justification file.

Emmanuel Chol, Director of the Nantes-Indret site where the propeller was 3D printed, stated, “Obtaining military naval quality requires rigorous development. Nearly three years of R&D – carried out by the Technical and Innovation Department in cooperation with the Ecole Centrale de Nantes within the framework of the LabCom Joint Laboratory of Maritime Technology – went into the development of the deposition process of metal wire fusion.”

The benefits of 3D printing

While the 3D printing of the propeller is a major accomplishment, it is just the first step in a whole new development phase being undertaken by Naval Group. Riding off the back of the successful project, the company is set to focus on redesigning other maritime components that could benefit from 3D printing.

As well as weight savings and significant reductions in lead times, redesigning parts for 3D printing can increase energy and thrust efficiencies, and even improve the acoustic discretion of a component during stealth operations. Furthermore, DED-based technologies like metal wire fusion lend themselves quite well to part repair, alleviating further costs and downtime in the wake of destructive accidents.

Eric Balufin, Director of the Naval Group site of Brest where the blades were mounted, concludes, “The assembly of this 3D printed propeller shows great promise for the future. This new technology will enable us to considerably reduce technical constraints, and therefore allow for new manufacturing solutions for complex geometrical shapes which cannot be produced through conventional processes. It will also enable us to greatly reduce production time and consequently in-service support.”

Ammonia Fueled Engines


Ammonia Fueled Engine

The race to get the ammonia-fueled engines into the commercial market continues, with WinGD, part of China’s CSSC Group, reporting it is on track to deliver ammonia engines in 2025. The Swiss-based marine power company provided its latest update citing progress in its testing and its collaboration with shipping companies.

WinGD highlights the strong collaborations happening across the industry to advance ammonia which is viewed as one of the most promising applications to achieve decarbonization in the maritime industry. The engine manufacturer highlights its efforts with engine and shipbuilders in China, Japan, and Korea, as well as class society and its own extensive investment in research.

The Swiss company is reporting that it is on track to deliver its first X-DF-A dual-fuel ammonia engines by the first quarter of 2025, with the first X-DF-A powered vessels in service from 2026. This follows combustion tests at WinGD research facilities in December 2022, which further demonstrated the advancements in ammonia-fueled engine design.

Tests on its purpose-built single-cylinder engine located at its Engine Research & Innovation Centre (ERIC) in Winterthur, and a multi-cylinder test engine at WinGD’s Global Test Centre in Shanghai will commence, in collaboration with China Shipbuilding Power Engineering Institute Co. (CSPI). WinGD highlights that it completed first ignition in 2022, and is quickly gaining knowledge including developing modeling for accurate figures for ammonia consumption and emissions. The company is working on two-stroke combustion concepts and emission models.

They are highlighting their process just days after Germany-based MAN Energy Solutions announced last week the first running of one of its two-stroke engines on ammonia at a test facility in Copenhagen. They recently highlighted their first successful ammonia combustion using the same two-stroke engine.

Other engine manufacturers are also making strong progress in their efforts. Wärtsilä began running progressive amounts of ammonia fuel in a four-stroke in 2020, and Japan Engine followed suit in 2023. Japan Engine also reported in April 2023 that it has begun co-firing ammonia with the fuel oil in a two-stroke engine.

“For the industry to be truly ready for alternative fuels, the engine concepts that use them – and the vessel designs, auxiliary systems, crew training, and field support network - need to be ready before the fuels become widely available,” said Dominik Schneiter, CEO of WinGD. “Our development timeframe, as evidenced by these milestones in research and collaboration, shows that we are on track to give shipowners and operators the time they need to prepare for decarbonized ship power using ammonia as fuel.”

Shipowners are anticipating these developments, proceeding with orders for ammonia-ready vessels. CMB (Compagnie Maritime Belge) reported that it recently took deliver on the world's first ammonia-ready containership. Built in China. the vessel is operating for CMA CGM and will be followed by similar vessels also designed for operations with ammonia fuel in the future. CMB.Tech also has a partnership with WinGD to develop ammonia-fueled engines for ten 210,000 DWT bulk carriers. Similarly, last month AET Tankers and sister company Akademi Laut Malaysia last month signed an agreement with WinGD to develop crew training on ammonia engines. WinGD also highlights that it has recently signed agreements with both Mitsubishi Shipbuilding Co. and Hyundai Heavy Industries in 2022 focusing on the development of designs for ammonia-fueled vessels. 

Despite the challenges still to be overcome including the safety features for handling and operating with ammonia, its lack of carbon emissions continues to make it a leading candidate for the future both of the maritime industry and other heavy industries faced with the challenge of decarbonization. Most analysts continue to predict that the challenges will be overcome and by mid-decade forecast that ammonia fuel technology will reach commercialisation.

© Lambert Marine 2013-