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3D Printed Boats: Everything You Need to Know

3D Printed Boats: Everything You Need to Know

A 3D printed boat is not only a possibility but it also exists in our world today. This might seem incredulous given that boats are much larger than most 3D printers, and 3D prints typically are not at all waterproof.

However, with additive manufacturing now a production method used everywhere, it seems the possibility is wide open. Be it spare parts for boats, design components for submarines, or even components of current turbines, 3D technologies are impacting boat construction and we’re here for it!

Scroll down for details on several examples of 3D printed boats, their processes, and the benefits of 3D printing boats- not necessarily in that order.

The 3D Printing Process

First things first, getting a basic understanding of the 3D printing process is a good way of easing into the idea of 3D printed boats. You should know that careful steps are taken to ensure that 3D printed boats are a success.

3D printing or additive manufacturing, which is the creation of real-world three-dimensional objects through a printing process, has its easy and difficult parts. That is not to say if you want to give it a try, you can’t handle it. You just have to follow the right steps.

To get started with the 3D printing process, the following are what you need to do:

  • Design your Model

You can design your models by yourself using either professional software, which is quite expensive or free open-source software. This will allow you to create accurate and printable designs by typing instructions to combine different shapes to make complex objects.

Another option is making use of 3D scanners. However, these have their own disadvantages as they can only scan what they can see. Also, the models you create with the scanners might need tidying in software before printing; and the affordable scanners available might not have the precision required for functionally accurate items.

  • Get a 3D Printer

Now that you can design your models, the next step in the 3D printing process is getting your own printer. This is a delicate decision and certain things must be taken into consideration if you want a 3D printer that delivers finished quality objects. First, consider the print volume of the printer as it lets you know what you can and cannot print.

Then check for nozzle size and remember, the smaller the better for accuracy. Thirdly, check the print heads of the 3D printer and note that if you want to print multiple colors, it’s better to get one with multiple heads. Finally, avoid printers that use proprietary cartridges and stick to the ones that use standard diameters of filament.

It’s advisable for you to join an online or local 3D printing community for more help on what kind of printer you should purchase. You’ll also be familiar with printers that are more popular within the community this way.

  • Choose a Filament

Filaments are simply thermoplastics that melt instead of burn when heated and solidify when cooled. They can be shaped and molded, and are materials from which 3D objects are printed. The filament is generally supplied on reels and resembles insulated electrical wire.

The most common types of filament are PLA (polylactic acid) and ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene). While ABS has the advantage of being relatively resistant to heat and impact, it is made from fossil which is non-biodegradable. PLA, on the other hand, is obtained from renewable resources like corn and it can be a little brittle as well as not heat resistant.

This makes PLA easy to print but unsuitable for locations with temperatures regularly exceeding 50 ̊C. It is advisable for you to use the ABS filament if you are printing parts for your engine bay.

Benefits of 3D Printing Boats

A lot of great benefits come with 3D printing boats from production to customization. Rather than the ancient or traditional manufacturing ways of crafting boats, this additive manufacturing method offers an easier and more economical way of boat construction.

Here are the benefits in detail:

  • No Excess Material

One thing about additive manufacturing is that only the amount of material needed to build your boat is used. Unlike the traditional subtractive manufacturing methods where materials are sure to be wasted, 3D printing your boat leaves no room for excess material. Even if there is, the excess material can always be used for a different printing job, making this method more sustainable and less expensive.

  • Customization of Parts

There are different parts in a boat, each one improving it either in the area of speed or balance. With customization, you can create uniquely designed parts as well as parts that will help optimize the boat’s overall performance. You can simply adjust the 3D model to whatever pleases you. And with its low cost compared to the traditional manufacturing methods, customization with 3D printing is highly beneficial.

  • Lighter Weight

A boat with less weight is mostly coveted because it’s faster and more balanced, causing a better performance. This is why 3D printing boats can be considered beneficial in this sense. Due to the fact that 3D printing materials are considerably lighter, and only the materials needed are used in 3D printing, the boats created are of lighter weight. This means that additive manufacturing produces parts that are lighter compared to parts made with a traditional manufacturing method.

  • Spare Parts Replacement

It’s not unusual to see damages or bumps in the boat hull as the waters can sometimes get rough and nasty to ships and boats alike. There are even times when the boat hulls become so dirty that cleaning them properly can be almost impossible or simply too expensive.

In cases like this, replacing the boat hull totally is the best option since a damaged or dirty boat hull can lead to it losing its speed or effectiveness. Instead of spending so much money and time on getting a replacement, you can easily and quickly fix the parts with additive manufacturing.

Some Examples of 3D Printed Boats Today

In the past, the automotive industry has been known for incorporating 3D printing into their sector quite a lot. However, 3D printing is slowly but surely making its mark in the shipbuilding industry as well.

Several organizations have started making 3D printed boats for special purposes, and some of them are:

  • Maine’s 3Dirigo Boat

Printed in just 72 hours, the Guinness world’s largest 3D printed boat and 3D printed solid item was announced by the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center in September 2019.

It was printed using the world’s largest thermoplastic 3D printer, measures 25’ (7.62m) long and weighs 5,000lbs (2,268kg). As part of a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee (ORNL), the aim of this project was to develop a large-format AM program based on 3D printing materials that contain wood fiber.

  • MAMBO Fiberglass Boat

The MAMBO boat was the first functional 3D printed fiberglass boat to sail in Italian waters during the Genoa boat show. It was designed by Moi Composites in collaboration with Autodesk, Catmarine, Micad, and Owens Corning. The additive manufacturing method was used with continuous fiber composite materials.

The printing process also involved two robots that fabricated the boat’s components to be assembled. With this system, they were able to create lighter, yet strong and durable parts for the boat. There was also limited material waste and no need for molds. At 12’4” (6.5 meters) long, 8’2” (2.5 meters) wide, and 1763.7lbs (800kg) in weight, the MAMBO boat, unveiled in 2019, is truly outstanding.

  • The AC9F

All the tooling needed to build this boat was 3D printed by Yachting Developments, a New Zealand company that specializes in building boats with composite materials. The company went ahead to develop a branch dedicated to additive manufacturing as a way to accelerate the production of its ships. The AC9F went on to participate in the 36th edition of the America’s Cup, and the teams were able to drastically reduce the manufacturing time of the final boat thanks to 3D printing.

  • 3D Printed Kayak

This fully functional kayak was created by Jim Smith of Grass Roots Engineering. At 5 meters long, 0.5 meters wide, weighing about 30 kilograms, and using 28 different ABS plastics, this 3D printed kayak is the first of its kind. Using only screws, threaded inserts, and some silicone sealant alongside the ABS plastics, Jim made this a reality. He even created a custom, large-scale 3D printer to aid his outstanding innovation.

  • 3D Printed Marine Hull

The master plug of this marine hull, alongside its print, assembly process, and trim process took less than ten working days to be completed with the use of an LSAM 3D printer. The Techmer Electrafil© ABS LT1 3DP material was used. After the printing process, the hull was coated with a finish and a fiberglass mold was implemented by tracing along with the pre-printed pattern. 3D printing of the marine hull optimized the feasibility, practicality, and economics behind it.


Going through the 3D printing process of building boats might seem difficult or tiring to you but with its many benefits and finished quality products, you know the process is well worth it!

To encourage you are even some of the best 3D printed boats in our world today that have been made a success by great minds. These real-life examples show you that 3D printed boats are a possibility and are being embraced more and more by the shipbuilding industry. Feel free to let us know your thoughts about 3D printed boats and contact us for more information!

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