ROVS benefit from 3D printing technology

Online Editor

Covering 71% surface of the earth, water presents a vast and beautiful landscape resource that has yet to be fully explored. Due to the challenging nature of the aquatic environment, the tools for underwater exploration were once limited to organizations with vast resources and knowledge. However, with the increasing popularity of activities such as underwater recreation, ecological preservation, and civil engineering, innovative and accessible products are needed to meet the demands of a consumer market.

Underwater remote operated vehicles (ROVs), are typically controlled by an operator located on a surface vessel or the shore using an control pad, in a similar way that you would play a video game or drive an RC car. A cabled system connects the ROV to the control unit and transfers electrical signals in between. In April 2019, Qysea Technology, a leading ROV manufacturer, officially released the first omni-directional compact underwater consumer ROV with an integrated 4K UHD camera, the Fifish V6, which is equipped with 3D-printed protective covers for its smart vector thrusters.

The Fifish V6 features robust performance including maximum dive depth of 100m, an optimal 4.5 hours dive time, and a wide operational temperature range from -10 to 60°C. With an advanced underwater camera and VR system, it offers users an accessible and highly immersive underwater experience for scooting, filming and inspection.

The ROV gives users optimal control and flexibility during underwater operations, thanks to a 6 smart vector thruster system equipped to ensure rapid omni-directional movements. The design of each thruster system consists of an embedded thruster, a circular motor and an enclosing protective cover. Electrically driven, the circular motor pushes the rotor blades located in the centre of the engine pump cavity to generate thrust. Due to the complexity of underwater conditions, the thruster system will experience various extreme conditions including impact, collisions, and fouling during the diving process. To best protecting the vector thrusters, protective covers becomes key design elements that requires mechanical strength and good durability in order to avoid any damages during operation.

With version 6 of the Fifish series, the design and production of thruster protective cover encountered multiple challenges when being produced using traditional processes: high cost, long lead time, limitations of design. Injection moulds for each design iteration costs over 50,000 USD while requiring a 30-day production circle. On the other hand, industrial models of underwater ROV requires customisation of designs, which are also limited by traditional design-manufacturing process.

Since 2018, Qysea Technology partnered with the industrial additive manufacturing service bureau WeNext and adopted Farsoon's latest Flight technology for their development process and series production needs. With a large build volume of 400 x 400 x 450 mm, 150 protective thruster covers are able to be produced in a single build. The powerful fibre laser and robust processing significantly improves throughput and achieved reduced cost per part. During the year of 2019 Qysea has successfully fabricated more than 30,000 thruster protective covers on Flight HT403P systems for end-use parts in their consumer ROV production.

With the help of Flight technology, during design iteration, Qysea was able to accelerate development cycle from over 30 days to less than 7 days. For end-use part production, series production cost of customised thruster protective covers is reduced by 80% compared to the traditional manufacturing process. The end-use parts produced with the Flight laser sintering technology are able to achieve an improved size accuracy and feature resolution, while meeting the requirement for performance by passing functional tests including temperature, collision and fatigue. 3D printing also offers an alternative supply chain to reduce inventory cost, which is especially valuable for Qysea’s quickly growing and changing product line.

"3D printing technology offers infinite possibilities for future underwater ROV innovation,” says Ms. Li, Deputy general manager of Qysea. “Farsoon’s Flight technology opened our eyes to a new level of advanced production speed, optimal yield and freedom of customisation. Now we have full confidence to achieve faster product development and additive series production at an economical cost.”

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