3D Printed Parts for International Submarine Engineering

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3D Printing End Use Parts For Submarines 

3D Printing AUV Parts for International Submarine Engineering (ISE)

Written By: Luke Alden, Subsea Mechanical Designer - August 25, 2019

International Submarine Engineering has been able to replace traditionally machined parts on their newest explorer class AUVs with 3D printed parts from Forge Labsreducing turnaround time on complex parts, lowering costs, and allowing more freedom of design. ISE has been a world leader in the design and integration of autonomous and remotely operated robotic vehicles and terrestrial robotics since 1974. Their AUV's are unmanned submarines that can be used to survey the ocean floor to study everything from underwater volcanoes to traces of oil deposits to continental shelves.


“Making short run production parts can be very expensive when using complex CNC machining and fabrication - 3D printing has allowed us to produce complex parts and one-offs much more cheaply than traditional methods.”

- International Submarine Engineering

Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) was selected as the print technology for many of the end-use components on ISE's newest AUV. FDM is one of the most widely used 3D printing technologies, offering fast prints, competitive prices, and spacious build platforms - all of which make it excellent for large, end-use parts. We offer a wide range of production grade thermoplastics, making it possible to test real-world material properties.

LED Panel

A LED panel on the bottom of the AUV offered a unique design challenge. To accommodate the panel, it was necessary to drill out a very complex hole into the curved body of the submarine. Furthermore, the LED panel need to be placed very irregularly within the bracket - necessitating very complex geometry that would have been very expensive to CNC.


Next, the LED bracket was printed - fitting perfectly to the interior of the submarine, the bracket was used as its own drilling template.

With 3d-printing, making a part that fit perfectly was no problem - the part was even used as it’s own drilling template. The design freedom offered by 3d printing also made it possible to make the part much more hydrodynamic at a very low cost. ASA was selected as the material, allowing the part to be both neutrally buoyant and UV-stable.



Obstacle Avoidance System

The AUV’s obstacle avoidance system was a perfect candidate for 3d printing - traditionally, manufacturing a bracket to match the compound-curve surface of the AUV demanded a hand-fabricated part. Not only did this make them expensive and difficult to produce, it meant that every part was unique, making them difficult to replace in the field.

The cost and lead time for the part were also substantially reduced from a traditional cost of $1500 to $396 using 3D Printing with a lead time of only 2 days.



Plane Extensions

The plane extensions of the Explorer-Class AUV’s had traditionally been made out of fibreglass - a complex, expensive process that involved multiple molded pieces that had to be glued together and then machined. With 3D printing, the part could be made in a single piece - reducing the turnaround time by several days, and reducing the cost of the part by 2/3rds. The part could also be made significantly lighter than before.  Printed out of ASA, the fin was then sanded and painted to match the smooth fibreglass shell of the AUV - a seamless fit.


The cost and lead time for the part were also substantially reduced from a traditional cost of $1000 to $216 using 3D Printing with a lead time of only 3 days. Due to the complexity of the part, the lead time was slashed from 3-4 weeks to just two days - a huge improvement.