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Radio Control 3D boat printing comes of age

In the beginning there was a basic PLA filament 3D printing material which proved to be too brittle, broke down in the sunlight and was not strong enough to put up with the rigours of the race course. Early boats broke up on collision and either sank or limped back to shore. Then new print filaments were released which were strong, UV protected and flexible to cop with the inevitable T-bone on the race course. Filaments now include carbon fibre which of course we cannot use on IOM's, aerated filaments for lightweight structures and now battery and solar technology can be incorporated.


3d printed boats have become a designers dream. You can tweak a design, print the new boat and have it on the water in a few days. The cost of hull material is a little over £100 with printers anywhere between a few hundred to £10,000 for and industrial style printer. You only have to look at the Alioth or 3D print facebook sites to know that boats are being printed all over the world. Compare that to the task of producing a new mould and laying up a glass epoxy boat or waiting lengthy times to get hold of a production boat.


Now imagine a boat `(of the right design) which incorporates the battery in the 3D layup and charges itself so you never have to worry about that aspect of the electronics again. The stuff of dreams I hear you say but what if you knew the technology is available today. Let me explain.


In 2018 the University of Newcastle in Australia started printing electric circuits on ultra thin film, less than 0.1mm thick. Shortly after they were able to print solar panels on film with a charge capacity of 4-600 W per square foot (even on a cloudy day) which I thought to be more than enough to charge a boat battery. The powerful charge is created through the use of microscopic prisms which concentrates the light from the sun and with the boat outside all day when racing is more than enough charge to keep you going. Laying the material on the deck is the easy solution but with the film so thin it is possible to create sails that will charge as well.


I was lucky enough to have a chance call from one of my materials professors at Southampton university who put me onto the relevant contacts in Australia and after some discussion about my project, sent samples with instruction to fit and try out. Attaching film to the deck of a 3d printed boat was an easy solution and achieved great results with the samples I was sent but I am not allowed to show the set up as I am still under a confidentiality agreement.

The battery boat was a slightly different challenge. I was put in touch with a California company . The first 3d printed battery was developed in 2021. The 3d printing uses a metal paste and a binder in a screen printing process through a computer generated mask. The layer on layer printing is repeated until the part, in virtually any shape, is complete.

Recently a start up company developed polymer electrolyte binders along with anode and cathode powders, a printable photopolymer resin. This enables the manufacturer of a low cost batteries, and using a sample filament, printed the battery into the bottom of my new IOM boat. It has the double benefit of putting weight at the bottom of the boat and is 100% waterproof.


So the battery and charging solution is done, now to get it into the market.


1 April 2024

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