New business models for the maritime sector through 3D printing

Leverage the true potential of Additive Manufacturing in the Maritime Sectors

3D printing: A disruptive and promising technology for the maritime industry


3D printing or Additive Manufacturing (AM) is a manufacturing process that builds layer on layer to create a three-dimensional functional part from a digital model. During the last 20 years, AM has developed into a reliable technology in series, small-batch and prototype production. Industrial applications of AM technologies span a large variety of industries. Currently, the top industries using AM are medical, aerospace, machine building & tooling as well as automotive.

     Figure 1: Key industries using Additive Manufacturing (Bionic Production GmbH)

     Sources: Bionic Production GmbH, LZN, RB Research, January 2019, * own estimates after interviews


This fast-emerging technology will probably have a disruptive impact on worldwide transportation and logistics chains. It allows for a cost-efficient and reliable local manufacturing of production batches – even in industrialized countries. Potentially, a proportion of foreign production in low-cost countries could be thus ‘near-sourced’ in the proximity of the customers. International trade in final and intermediate products could thus decrease considerably in future.

Ports and shipping companies will also have the opportunity to profit from the tremendous potential of AM by developing new operating strategies, generating new business models or actually becoming a 3D printing hub. Some ports early recognized the potential of AM and started to establish own skills and competences to make use of AM. For example, the Port of Rotterdam acquired metal printers and set up a “FieldLab“ for the development of knowledge in the area of metal printing, 3D scanning, 3D design and certification (1). Germany´s largest port operator, the “Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG“ took over a full-service 3D printing operator to develop new business fields around 3D printing related logistics services (2). The shipping industry is also increasingly adopting AM. For example, RAMLAB unveiled the world first class approved 3D printed ship propeller in 2017 (3). In early February 2020, the bulk carrier ‘“Berge Mafadi“ was one of the world’s first ships to receive a commercial delivery of 3D-printed spare parts, including scupper plugs (4).

Figure 2: Selected examples from the maritime industry display exemplary application areas and its benefits

Identify and leverage the potential of 3D printing in the maritime sector

Despite the growing popularity of AM, many players in the maritime industry are still not fully aware of the potential to be gained from this cutting-edge production technology. Therefore, time is calling for the maritime industry to get ready for the age of Additive Manufacturing and leverage considerable potential, improve operational efficiency and open up new areas of business.

Especially, the provision of spare parts is considered as promising field of application for AM in the maritime sector (5):

  • AM has the potential to significantly reduce delivery times and logistics cost through on-demand and decentralized production strategies. Given the fact that the maritime maintenance network involves many actors (e.g. OEM, service providers and system integrators), the supply chain can thus be optimized considerably. In addition, vessels operate away from the base in remote areas, rendering the supply of parts quite challenging. Finally, ports in regions far away from the original spare part supplier (e.g. the Port of Dar es Salaam) regularly have trouble to produce spare parts within a reasonable time.
  • By moving from a “make-to-stock” to a more efficient and sustainable “make-to-order” AM-approach, warehouse cost can be reduced. This is especially important for the maritime industry since maritime assets are capital intensive and space in ports and on vessels is limited.
  • The risk of downtimes due to supply bottlenecks is mitigated since AM allows for a fast production in proximity of the customer. The Corona cirsis clearly demonstrated the necessity to create a flexible and resilient supply chain for spare parts. Many terminals reported limited equipment spare parts availability as a result from border closures affecting the ability to deliver productivity to clients. This inevitably results in a reassessment of the spare parts strategy (6). Implementing AM in daily operation allows providing metal and polymer spare parts on-site and on-demand and thus contributes to maintan business continuity.

Besides spare parts, there are dozens of other promising AM business opportunities for the maritime sector, like the fast production of prototypes, the provision of production capacities for external customers (“Manufacturing as a Service”) or the development of new logistics segments with AM. It is worth noting that getting started with AM does not necessarily huge require investments in machines, it could also mean identify and optimize few parts and get the printed externally.

Our approach

We have set the ambitious goal to prepare the maritime industry for the profitable use of Additive Manufacturing. Combing the knowledge in the fields of Additive Manufacturing and the maritime sector, we support you reliably on your journey to explore and implement the benefits using 3D printing in daily operations. Our goal is to find profitable business opportunities for your company, leading to cost savings, operational excellence or even additional revenues streams.

To achieve this, we have developed a proven and structured approach to help ports, shipping companies and intermodal terminals to improve business processes and to increase profits. Our comprehensive consulting approach contains the whole process chain of AM activities, from idea generation, feasibility analysis, market analysis, business model generation to the actual introduction of AM in your company. We hereby make use of the efficient and advanced methods, such as Design Thinking, life-cycle profitability analysis or automated search algorithms to analyze your product portfolio.

Together with us, you can build up the necessary know how in your company, establish your individual AM introduction strategy and anchor 3D printing effectively in your processes. To provide maximum customer satisfaction, we develop all strategies and processes in a tailored manner to satisfy our clients’ unique needs and ensure that all solutions offered are based on economic considerations.

Why Bionic Production GmbH

We understand ourselves as a full-service provider in the field of Additive Manufacturing, we support you in every development and implementation phase of Additive Manufacturing. It is our mission to improve our Client´s competitive situation. You will benefit from our technological and economic expertise, gathered in industry projects for renowned customers. Besides expertise in Additive Manufacturing, our experts also have deep knowledge in the logistics sector. Since 2019, our company is part of one of Europe´s leading port and transport logistics companies, the Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG (HHLA).

Contact us for further information!

Dr. Johannes Schmidt

phone: +49 (0) 4131 2300 163







(5) Heinen, J. and Kai H. (2019): Assessing the potential of additive manufacturing for the provision of spare parts, Journal of Operations Management (in press).