Innovative Use of 3D Printing Enhances Efficiency on RRS Sir David Attenborough’s Maiden Antarctic Voyage


Having embarked on its first mission to Antarctica last October, the RRS Sir David Attenborough, heralded as Britain’s most sophisticated polar research vessel, is experiencing a groundbreaking utilization of 3D printing technology. In an effort to enhance onboard operations, the ship is increasingly turning to 3D printing to revolutionize its repair and modification processes. Leveraging DEFEND3D software, the RRS Sir David Attenborough can more easily access the benefits of additive manufacturing while simultaneously overcoming issues such as low bandwidth, which is of course a major concern in the Antarctic.

In the challenging conditions of remote and harsh environments, traditional repairs on vessels like the RRS Sir David Attenborough have conventionally relied on simpler materials like wood and glue. Indeed, damaged plastic components often remain broken until replacements can be sourced – a process known for its inherent costs and time-consuming nature. Additionally, while essential, the vessel’s reliance on carpenters and machinists for specific repairs has, at times, fallen short. Despite the expertise in these specialized trades, the swift creation of these precise and customized components has not always been guaranteed, highlighting the need for a more viable solution.

However, the introduction of 3D printing aboard the vessel has revolutionized this approach, allowing parts to be custom-made, replicated, or invented with minimal cost and significantly reduced turnaround time. The adoption of 3D printing technologies aboard ships has surged in popularity, mirroring the trend set by the US Navy, which embraced 3D printed components on their nuclear submarines last September. Though, obviously, challenges still need to be addressed, especially in areas where things like the internet are not accessible.

How DEFEND3D Enables Seamless 3D Printing Aboard the RRS Sir David Attenborough

Implementing 3D printing onboard a polar vessel presents unique challenges. One major obstacle is limited bandwidth, which complicates sourcing templates for designs not yet downloaded. However, the RRS Sir David Attenborough found a solution in DEFEND3D, a manufacturing solution specializing in secure transmissions for remote 3D printing. DEFEND3D addresses these challenges with its Virtual Inventory Communications Interface software.

This software sets itself apart by enabling vessels to navigate bandwidth constraints during template sourcing. It does this by tapping into a central repository of engineer-grade parts, ensuring a seamless 3D printing process. This feature is particularly valuable in remote locations where limited bandwidth could disrupt operations. The outcome is enhanced operational efficiency, allowing vessels to produce essential parts on demand and reduce downtime in challenging environments. Remarkably, this functionality only requires 3kbps.

Recently, the success of DEFEND3D’s software was showcased when a bespoke part – a bracket attachment for a peristaltic pump used to test water sample salinity – was created. Crew members onboard the vessel reported flawless operation of the software, enabling them to begin using the part quickly and without delays, while still adhering to exact design specifications.

Installation of this 3D printing technology aboard the RRS Sir David Attenborough marks a significant stride of maritime innovation. DEFEND3D’s software, adept at overcoming bandwidth challenges, not only ensures immediate benefits for on-demand repairs and component creation, but also establishes a foundation for sustained, uninterrupted research missions in the harshest environments. This moment solidifies a commitment to advancing scientific endeavors in the extreme conditions of polar exploration. You can find out more on the British Antarctic Survey website HERE.

What are your thoughts on this use of 3D printing technology aboard the RRS Sir David Attenborough? Let us know in a comment below or on our LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter pages! Don’t forget to sign up for our free weekly Newsletter here, the latest 3D printing news straight to your inbox! You can also find all our videos on our YouTube channel.

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