Shape of the Future?

A newly launched boat in Italy suggests one possible future for 3D printers in boatbuilding
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Moi Composites debuted Mambo, the world’s first 3D-printed fiberglass boat, at the Genoa International Boat Show.

Moi Composites debuted Mambo, the world’s first 3D-printed fiberglass boat, at the Genoa International Boat Show.

About a year ago, boat lovers around the globe marveled at the 25-foot-long 3Dirigo, the world’s largest 3D-printed boat. Her creators at the University of Maine built her using the planet’s largest prototype polymer 3D printer. Nobody called that boat sexy, but she was a beauty of an achievement. She weighed 5,000 pounds, all of it printed in a single piece from a material that incorporated recycling-friendly biofibers.

Now, from overseas, comes a different vision of how the future may look for 3D-printed boats. In October, Moi Composites of Italy debuted its creation, Mambo, at the Genoa International Boat Show. The product name stands for Motor Additive Manufacturing Boat, and according to the company, Mambo is the world’s first 3D-printed fiberglass boat.

“We wanted to show that you can print any unique boat that you like,” says
Gabriele Natale, president and CEO of Moi Composites. “Everyone stopped to take a picture and ask for information. People’s reaction was great. Being an additive
manufacturing technology, you need to demonstrate that the boat can navigate, and this is what we decided to do. The boat was floating, and you could navigate for real.”

While 3Dirigo and Mambo both offer a glimpse at a boatbuilding future without molds or other traditional construction processes, the differences between the two projects also reveal divergent visions of how 3D-printing technology might become a boatbuilding mainstay. The boats are similar in size, with Mambo being 21 feet, 4 inches length overall, but in terms of weight, Mambo is comparatively svelte at less than 1,800 pounds. Her shape is also a lot sexier, something that Moi Composites achieved by using 3D-printing technology differently.

Mambo was created by robots that produced multiple sections, which were assembled and laminated. Humans added the deck, seats and paint.

Mambo was created by robots that produced multiple sections, which were assembled and laminated. Humans added the deck, seats and paint.

Whereas 3Dirigo was printed all in one piece by a single machine, Mambo was created by robots that produced smaller sections. Those sections were later assembled and laminated. Human beings then added the decks, leather seats, paint and styling details.

3Dirigo took just 72 hours to create in a single shot, but Mambo took a few months in fits and starts, when the Moi Composites team wasn’t using the robots for other projects. Natale says that going forward, he thinks the largest section of Mambo will take about two months to produce.

And the technology itself is still evolving. Right now, Natale says, the Continuous Fiber Manufacturing (CFM) process that Moi Composites uses allows 3D-printing of sections that are about 6½ feet by 5 feet by 5 feet. The technology is scalable to larger robots, he says, and can be used to create as many sections as designers need for the assembly of larger boats. The company is only about 2 years old, having been founded in 2018 in Milan. And the marine industry isn’t its only potential partner; the company is also working to adapt CFM technology for use in the aerospace, energy and biomedical industries.

“Our startup is a growing company,” Natale says. “Ideally, we would like to implement new machines that are able to have a print area greater than the one we have right now. Our core is the technology for this kind of material. We could do a partnership with a company that produces big machines.”

CFM technology allows boat designers to work with shapes that would either be impossible or prohibitively expensive to create using traditional boatbuilding methods, he says. Whereas boatbuilders historically have had staffs that include a main designer or two, and then a lot of shipyard workers, Natale envisions a future where robots replace some of the shipyard workers while more designers are brought in to expand the boundaries of vessel shapes and styles.

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“I think the world is full of designers who have really cool ideas,” he says, “but in the end, nobody produces it because of the limitations in production. This kind of boat remains a rendering or a digital 3D model forever. The idea is to give them a possibility to produce it.”

To achieve Mambo, Moi Composites had about a half dozen partner companies.
Autodesk, based in the United Kingdom, provided the company with software. The Italian shipyard Catmarine and Italian design firm Micad contributed to Mambo’s design. Accessories came from Italy’s Osculati, while U.S.-based Mercury Marine provided the outboard engines. Owens Corning, with headquarters in Ohio, contributed its expertise in fiberglass composites.

Mambo’s hull shape is described as an “inverted tricycle” inspired by the Arcidiavolo, a craft that Renato “Sonny” Levi designed for offshore racing in the 1970s, and that also inspired the 41-foot, 80-knot Arcidiavolo GT raceboat by Italian builder Cantieri di Sarnico. Mambo doesn’t hit nearly those speeds—Natale says the boat achieved 26 knots in Genoa with a single 115-hp Mercury PRO XS outboard, and might be able to hit 30 knots with some tweaks—but her styling reflects Levi’s organic forms that the Moi Composites team describes as chasing each other and transforming into structural and functional elements.

“This is what we are trying to promote,” Natale says. “Why would I print a standard boat when I can print anything I want? Let’s imagine something new.”

The next step for Mambo before boats like it can be sold to consumers is getting approvals from RINA, the Italian agency that provides safety and other types of vessel certifications. And what the next version of these boats might look like is anybody’s guess. Several yacht designers approached Moi Composites at the Genoa boat show, Natale says, wanting to collaborate on ideas the technology may be able to bring to life.

Mass-produced versions of those boats are not in the technology’s immediate future, he says, but anyone wanting a custom boat or a limited run of a single model could look to this type of 3D printing as an option. Natale envisions options for everything from day cruisers and fishboats to superyacht tenders.

The 3D-printed fiberglass Mambo was painted after assembly. 

The 3D-printed fiberglass Mambo was painted after assembly. 

“Most of the yacht owners have unique yachts, but in the end, they use a tender that other boat owners also have,” he says. “That should be a perfect market for this technology.”

Overall, Natale says, the question of whether boat designers and builders embrace the technology likely will be answered at least in part by how consumers react not just to Mambo, but also to the idea that the boat represents.

On the docks alongside designers and builders, Natale is watching and listening to gauge people’s feedback after encountering something so new and different. “We want to see the people’s reaction,” he says, “and if there is a demand for unique boats.” 

This article was originally published in the January 2021 issue.

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