Colette Flowerdew-Kincaid speaks exclusively to Damen, Sea & Style and V360Marine to find out how 3D Printing and VR innovations will affect shipyards


VR and 3D Printing are both fairly recent innovations, both widely acclaimed for the advances they have spurned in recent years. VR transports its user to a practically anywhere they want to go in a second, opening up countless possibilities for those who would be otherwise unable to experience that destination. 3D Printing has already enhanced manufacturing processes in some industries, making products more affordable and more widely available, and this revolution is set to continue as the cost of the printers falls. Needless to say, they are technologies that the yachting industry cannot afford to ignore.

But how can shipyards adopt these innovations without damaging the well-established procedures that have successfully built superyachts for decades. Will 3D printing bring job losses or more opportunities, will owners want yachts which are not as hand-crafted, and will the process really bring down the cost of superyacht building significantly? How can we integrate VR into yachts, and how much is it necessary considering every part of the superyacht is already designed to deliver the ultimate experience? Superyacht Technology News talks to experts from Damen Shipyards, 3D simulation business Sea and Style and 3D animators/modellers V360Marine to understand more.


3D Printing Possibilities

Although the advancement possibilities that 3D Printing can bring are widely acknowledged, the technology is still in its infancy in the shipbuilding industry. However, in November 2017 Damen announced that the world’s first class approved 3D printed ship’s propeller had been unveiled at its headquarters in the Netherlands following a rigorous testing process. Named the WAAMpeller, this break-through was the result of a close collaboration between RAMLAB, Promarin, Autodesk, Bureau Veritas and Damen.

With this in mind, when thoughts turned to 3D Printing in shipyards there was no one better to talk to then Kees Custers, Research Engineer at Damen. So, what made Damen decide to collaborate on creating the 3D printed propeller? “The challenge was simply too big to tackle by ourselves,” Custers said. “Building the first class approved 3D printed propeller, especially one of this size, requires very specific expertise. By teaming up with other partners we got all the right expertise involved while also lowering the risk for each individual project member,” he continued. This has undeniably set the bar high for future projects in the industry, but it has also put forward a good way to meet those standards; collaborative working.

And Custers confirmed that this is something Damen would do again, especially given the field is still very young and there are still numerous challenges to be tackled.


Necessary Collaboration

After all, creating this one propeller took 7 months from the point of collaboration, with each of the five-company partnership taking on an important role. Promarin provided the design of the triple-blade propeller. The Port of Rotterdam’s RAMLAB (Rotterdam Additive Manufacturing LAB) carried out fabrication using Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM) techniques, supported by Autodesk’s expertise in software, robotics and additive manufacturing. Damen provided R&D resources in addition to one of its Stan Tug 1606 vessels which was used to test the propeller. Bureau Veritas’ role was to verify the entire development, production and testing process. Clearly, there is a lot to be thought about, though as the technology becomes more commonly used the industry will surely adopt processes to speed things up.

One of the main challenges will be deciding which parts should and shouldn’t be printed. Custers is of the opinion that this will mostly down to an economic decision, and hence straightforward steel construction work such as flat plates and beams (used throughout the yacht) will most likely never be printed. However, for those parts that are 3D Printed, the new manufacturing process will open up vast opportunities. “3D printing greatly enhances the design freedom of the designer enabling designs which are impossible to manufacture today,” said Custers. “In the superyacht business a lot of custom work is performed, 3D printing has great potential in bringing down the cost of custom parts. Savings can be made on lead time for instance. However 3D printing also has the potential to push boundaries of the design,” he said. Still in its early stages, he believes that over time the market will determine whether 3D printing is used for cost savings, more extravagant designs, or both. For now, it will be a case of testing out the printing of different parts and seeing what works best.


Traditional vs Modern Parts

However, with the beauty of superyachts tied to the intensive craftsmanship that goes into each build, is there any concern that owners will be less interested in purchasing yachts created with 3D printed parts? For this Custers has no exact answer. However, as always, it will be up to the individual vessel owner to decide which taste he/she prefers. He said: “I think handcrafted – (traditional) and 3D printed (modern) parts both have their charm/added value.” As for those who are worried about job losses as a result of this innovation, these worries seem unfounded – at least in the foreseeable future.

After all, although 3D printing will change the work at the shipyard in the long run, as long as there is demand for superyachts there will always be plenty of building work around. With no hint as to what the next 3D printing project might be it seems we will just have to wait for the next shipyard collaboration. However, with many yards such as Heesen already using 3D rendering to help clients visualise the profile of a yacht, we don’t think we’ll be waiting too long.


A New Reality?

The same can be said for Virtual Reality. Its booming popularity has not only led to a change in the way many businesses work, it has also led to numerous new job roles in a range of industries. But although the technology itself has been around for decades, it has only really started to be used widely in the last few years. In the shipbuilding industry it has taken even longer to catch on, as Founder at Sea and Style Heiko Ganssl points out. “In many ways, the shipbuilding industry is still in its infancy when it comes to accepting 3D real-time presentations and VR. Part of our [company’s] responsibility is to show the shipbuilding industry, and in particular the shipyards and designers, the potential and benefits of 3D real-time presentations,” he said.

VR innovations could replace rendering
This is something Ganssl has plenty of experience in. His business Sea and Style is a media design company with a real-time simulator for creating 3D visualisations of yachts. The software allows users to view and change the details of a yacht design with its interior furnishings and equipment according to client requirements and before any time-consuming rendering work is carried out. For example, during the raw construction phase, besides the yacht’s size and superstructures, helicopter landing pads and berthings for tenders, speedboats or dinghies can be inserted into the native design. Technical facilities can be customised with a click of the mouse including simulating the complete incoming and outgoing air cycle of the air conditioning system. Customer wishes can be simulated using different colour concepts, floor and wall coverings as well as furniture and media components to create the interior furnishings. Further validation of this is offered by a variable daytime selector, which can be used to display indoor and outdoor lighting patterns with minute-to-minute time call-outs including the exact position of the sun.


Simulations for quicker decisions

This means shipyards, architects and planners can simulate adaptations to the design during client meetings and decisions can be made quicker. Owners can take a virtual tour through their future yacht, create 3D screenshots from a 360° perspective and view them spatially with a VR headset. High-resolution 3D laser scanning also allows means that different backgrounds can be incorporated into the design to support the sales process during digital presentations.

VR innovations show intricate workings of the yacht

Richard Hoosen, Technical Director of 3D animating/modelling company V360Marine, is another leading the charge in bringing 3D visualisation services and fully-immersive environments to yachting. V360Marine’s main application is creating a VR model of yacht which is then delivered on a web-based, multi-person platform and/or via VR headset. This allows clients to experience the design from anywhere in the world by simply logging into a secure environment. The project manager, chief engineer, captain and client, can all be in the same environment simultaneously with the ability to make real-time changes, talk to each other and record meetings.


Increasing safety onboard

V360Marine can also embed the engineering, system and asset data ‘as-built’ to create a complete digital blueprint of the yacht including all associated data. Part of the reason for doing this is to improving safety on board and optimise operations. Safety visualisations can be specifically created for the identification, management and simulation of hazards and risks on board. Hoosen explains that is something that is already widely used in the Nuclear and Oil & Gas sectors, where safety management is highly prioritised.

In the main more traditional mediums of presentation are still used by shipyards, but this is beginning to change. Ganssl said: “The traditional media will remain an inherent part of presentations, especially when a project is in the early designing phase. But the new possibilities like 3D real-time will increasingly start to replace the customary 3D renderings in the years to come.” So, it seems traditional presentation mediums are at no risk of being abolished, at least not in the foreseeable future. Hoosen explains that while 3D animations have been in use for quite some time and often assist with conceptual design/refit changes, VR has yet to make any real shift within the sector. He too believes that the biggest movement will come as traditional rendering methods transition over to real-time rendering solutions. “New changes can be made instantly whereas traditional rendering would require time to remake the scene with the overall costs much the same. This is just an evolution which is enabled by the technology, just like 3D rendering replaced hand drawn sketches,” he said.


Slowly but surely

It is starting to make an impact on the yachting scene. Just as Pride Mega Yachts is opening up the yachting market in China, Sea and Style is also seeing a boom of interest in Asia. “At the moment our clients are mainly in the Western Europe region, but Asia is beginning to become a major new customer territory because of its high level of acceptance for new media,” Ganssl said. In contrast, V360Marine’s shipyard/broker clients are based mostly in the Med. However, it hasn’t caught on everywhere.

Ganssl explains that where the demand for virtual reality is at its lowest is when it requires a permanent installation at the client’s property. And the resolution of today’s VR glasses doesn’t yet satisfy everyone. VR with excellent 360° images is still far more effective and efficient at the moment. But he believes that as the technology develops there is great potential in the field of online presentations and virtual reality. Ganssl said: “Virtual reality will most probably become common in the showrooms of series manufacturers in the years to come. And of course we continue to work on further improving the already high quality of simulation.”


Indispensable Tech

He does however believe that 3D real-time presentations and simulations will become indispensable in most areas of industry in the next 5-8 years. This will happen as VR glasses continue to improve, set to soon achieve a quality level that will also satisfy even the most high-end customers. Hoosen agrees that hardware will be the main enabler in the future, meaning the headsets of today could be contact lenses in the future. He said: “Longer term trends are difficult to predict due to the rate at which the market is evolving but that doesn’t mean the work we are doing now will become obsolete, quite the opposite in fact as the majority of developments are simply making the process faster and more optimised and accessible (and cheaper!).”

Hoosen also believes that the development of technologies such as haptic VR devices (which simulate the sensation of touch) will help to enhance the visualisation experience for yachting clients in the future. “We are already integrating these into our applications. Working in an incredibly exciting and continually evolving industry such as immersive tech means it’s essential to be always thinking ahead,” he said.


The Market will Decide

It seems likely that as the technology gets better and better to suit the needs of the yachting elite, both of these innovations will be brought more and more into yacht building. Based on Damen’s success with their first-ever 3D printed propeller and their enthusiasm to collaborate on more 3D printing projects, the future for this manufacturing method looks bright despite the numerous challenges still to be tackled. For VR, previous experience in other fields means that it already has a lot to offer for owners, engineers, captains and more visualising yacht builds and re-designs. All that seems to be holding it back are the VR headsets themselves, alongside a need to break the tradition of 3D rendering presentations. But with technology advancing at an ultra-fast rate and many owners embracing these developments, it seems likely that demand will necessitate shipyards to embrace the two innovations. Ultimately, the market will decide the most appropriate ways for these to integrate into the well-established procedures of the superyacht building industry.


By Colette Flowerdew-Kincaid


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