Tech News : World’s Largest (House-Sized) 3D Printer

Maine University in the US has announced that its new 3D printer has smashed the former Guinness World Record to become the largest 3D printer in the world, making it a significant step forward in the next generation of advanced manufacturing.

Factory of the Future 

The new printer, dubbed Factory of the Future 1.0 (FoF 1.0), unveiled on April 23 at the Advanced Structures and Composites Center (ASCC), is incredibly four times larger than its predecessor.

Prints Objects 96 ft x 32 ft! 

Maine University says its new 3D thermoplastic polymer printer can print objects as large as 96 feet long by 32 feet wide by 18 feet high and can print up to 500 pounds per hour.

Dynamically Switches Too 

Also, rather than being just a large-scale printer, it can dynamically switch between different processes such as large-scale additive manufacturing, subtractive manufacturing, continuous tape layup and robotic arm operations.  It’s also planned for Main University’s existing large MasterPrint 3D printer to be used in collaboration with the new record-breaking one, sharing the same end-effectors or by working on the same part.

Uses 

Maine University says the massive Factory of the Future 1.0 3D printer could have multiple uses, including:

– Eco-friendly and cost-effective manufacturing for numerous industries.

– The development of biobased feedstocks from wood residuals (abundant in Maine).

– Supporting national security, i.e. being used by the Army Corps of Engineers.

– Building affordable housing / Biohomes (the 3D printer is as big as a house after all).

– Bridge construction.

– Building ocean and wind energy technologies.

– Building lightweight rapidly deployable structures of various kinds.

– Maritime vessel fabrication.

Ahead of Green Engineering and Materials Factory 

Main University has highlighted how the development of the massive new 3D printer comes ahead of this summer’s planned groundbreaking of a new 47,000-square-foot research laboratory called the Green Engineering and Materials (GEM) Factory of the Future. MaineHousing’s Development Director Mark Wiesendanger said: “Maine needs an estimated 80,000 additional homes by 2030, many specifically for households with incomes at or below the area median income” and how the 3D printer “creates another means of producing quality affordable housing, while further driving costs down, and using abundant wood residuals from Maine’s sawmills”. 

Composite Materials Research and Advanced Manufacturing 

UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy highlighted how “This new capability not only reinforces UMaine’s Carnegie R1 research designation, but also reaffirms our standing as leaders in composite materials research and advanced manufacturing”. 

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

The new record-breaking 3D printer heralds a transformative era for multiple industries, particularly in sectors like housing, advanced manufacturing, and national security (in the US at the moment). The fact that the printer is as big as a house and can work at the rate of 500 pounds per hour promises to revolutionise the future approach to production and construction.

For the housing sector, particularly in addressing Maine’s pressing need for an estimated 80,000 additional homes by 2030, FoF 1.0 represents a pivotal advancement. The ability to rapidly and cost-effectively produce large-scale structures directly from biobased materials could dramatically reduce both construction times and costs, making housing more accessible to those with limited financial means. Projects like BioHome3D showcase the potential for sustainable housing solutions that are not only affordable but also environmentally friendly, and that leverage local wood residuals to help combat deforestation and reduce waste.

In terms of national security, the flexibility of FoF 1.0 to switch between different manufacturing processes enables the production of lightweight, rapidly deployable structures and maritime vessels. These capabilities may be crucial for developing infrastructure that can be quickly assembled in crisis zones or used in various defence applications, enhancing the strategic agility of the military and allied forces using it.

For Maine University itself, this technological leap reinforces its reputation as a leader in composite materials research and advanced manufacturing, and by fostering such innovations, the university can expand its educational and research capabilities and help position itself as a key player in the global push towards advanced technological solutions in manufacturing.

In terms of the broader field of advanced manufacturing and materials science, the integration of large-scale additive manufacturing with other processes enabled by the printer could lead to breakthroughs in everything from energy-efficient building methods to the creation of new composite materials that could be used in high-stress, high-performance environments.

Ultimately, the Factory of the Future 1.0 is not just a milestone for Maine University or that state’s housing market, but it offers the potential for modern technology to address some of the most pressing challenges of our times i.e., meeting demand for affordable housing, and environmental sustainability.

Sustainability-in-Tech : New 3D Printer Automatically Identifies Different Sustainable Materials

There’s an increasing range of renewable and recyclable materials now available yet 3D printers have historically been limited by the need to create new parameter sets for each one. However, MIT researchers have now made a 3D printer that can automatically identify the parameters of unknown materials on its own.

Overcoming The Parameter Limitations 

The problem with having to 3D print a new material from scratch up until now has been that typically at least 100 parameters must be set up in the software which controls how the printer will extrude the material as it fabricates an object. The materials commonly used for 3D printing (e.g. mass-manufactured polymers) already have established sets of parameters (that were only perfected through lengthy trial-and-error processes).

Now, with the need to use more renewable and recyclable materials (the properties of which can fluctuate widely based on their composition) making fixed parameter sets in the 3D printer for each one is nearly impossible to create, with the only option to date being users having to set all the parameters by hand.

However, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) appear to have solved this problem by developing a 3D printer that can automatically identify the parameters of an unknown material on its own.

How? 

The new 3D printer is able to work out the parameters for different materials thanks to a modified extruder which can measure the forces and flow of a material. A load cell measures the pressure being exerted on the printing filament, and a feed rate sensor measures the thickness of the filament and the actual rate at which it is being fed through the printer.

The data gathered by the new extruder (via the load cell and feed rate sensor, in a 20-minute test) can then be fed into a mathematical function that is used to automatically generate printing parameters. The parameters can then be entered into off-the-shelf 3D printing software and used to print with a never-before-seen material.

In experiments with six different materials, several of which were bio-based, the new 3D printer was able to automatically generate viable parameters that consistently led to successful prints of a complex object.

As lead researcher Neil Gershenfeld, pointed out: “The goal is to make 3D printing more sustainable”. 

Opens The Door For More Recycled and Bio-based Materials 

Looking ahead, as noted by Alysia Garmulewicz, an associate professor in the Faculty of Administration and Economics at the University of Santiago in Chile: “By developing a new method for the automatic generation of process parameters for fused filament fabrication, this study opens the door to the use of recycled and bio-based filaments that have variable and unknown behaviours. Importantly, this enhances the potential for digital manufacturing technology to utilise locally sourced sustainable materials.” 

Also, the researchers have said that they will be applying their discovery in other areas of advanced manufacturing, as well as in expanding access to metrology (the scientific study of measurement).

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

This discovery by the MIT researchers could be a significant advancement for businesses looking to embrace green manufacturing practices. This breakthrough not only saves time (and money) and simplifies the 3D printing process but also offers the potential for companies to innovate in ways that are both economically and environmentally sustainable.

For businesses, the implications of this technology go far beyond the mere convenience of automation. This printer could enable the use of a wider range of renewable and recyclable materials, significantly reducing dependency on traditional, often non-sustainable materials. As a result, organisations may be able to lower their environmental impact and align more closely with evolving regulations and consumer expectations regarding sustainability.

The ability of this printer to handle materials with variable and unknown behaviours also opens the door to using more locally sourced materials. This could be particularly beneficial for businesses aiming to reduce their carbon footprint by minimising the logistics associated with transporting materials. Also, it enhances the potential for creating more personalised and localised products, catering to specific market demands with greater agility.

The discovery of this new 3D technology could also bring further innovations in digital manufacturing. It may help businesses to explore new product designs and applications without the extensive time and cost previously involved in trial-and-error parameter setting. This may not only accelerate product development but may also make small-scale, bespoke production runs more feasible and cost-effective.

Crucially, the incorporation of more recycled and bio-based materials into mainstream manufacturing processes, facilitated by this new technology, could help more businesses contribute to a circular economy. This shift may help conserve natural resources and also open up new business opportunities in the recycling sector. Companies that can efficiently convert waste into valuable printing materials may be more likely to thrive in an increasingly resource-conscious market.

Sustainability-in-Tech : First 3D Metal Printer in Space

With the world’s first metal 3D printer being sent to the International Space Station (ISS), we look at what impact being able to print metal parts in space could have on space-travel plus potential environmental considerations and more.

3D Metal Printer 

Although the ISS already has several plastic 3D printers on board, the new Airbus-produced 3D metal printer, as Airbus points out, has been added because “not everything can be made from plastic” and “this logistical constraint will intensify on future Moon and Mars stations in the next few decades”. Airbus also points out that “even though the raw material still needs to be launched, printing the part is still more efficient than transporting it whole up to its final destination.” 

Will Improve Autonomy 

Looking ahead at what key benefits it will bring, as Gwenaëlle Aridon, Airbus Space Assembly lead engineer, says: “The metal 3D printer will bring new on-orbit manufacturing capabilities, including the possibility to produce load-bearing structural parts that are more resilient than a plastic equivalent. Astronauts will be able to directly manufacture tools such as wrenches or mounting interfaces that could connect several parts together. The flexibility and rapid availability of 3D printing will greatly improve astronauts’ autonomy.”   

The Moon and Beyond 

With the Moon now back on the agenda for manned visits, plans to prepare for a sustained presence there (a moon base), and with Mars missions a future possibility being able to manufacture what’s needed while in space is what makes a 3D printer an important development. As Aridon says: “Increasing the level of maturity and automation of additive manufacturing in space could be a game changer for supporting life beyond Earth,” and how “a metal printer using transformed regolith [moondust] or recycled materials” could be used “to build a lunar base!” 

Challenges 

There have been (and still are) many technological challenges to making a specialist 3D printer for use in space. For example:

– Making a 3D printer that’s small and light enough. The version in the laboratory on earth is a minimum ten square metres in size. The space version, therefore, had to be shrunk to “the size of a washing machine,” but is still able to make parts with a volume of 9 cm high and 5 cm wide.

– Safety. The 3D printer uses a laser to heat the metal. For this reason, the space version is housed in a sealed metal box.

– Gravity (or lack of it). Instead of a powder-based system (where the powder and fumes could float around and contaminate things), a wire-based system must be used for the space version of the printer.

– Whether the printer will function well in a ‘micro-gravity’ environment like the ISS. Testing this will involve comparing samples made on the space version of the 3D printer with ones made on the version in the lab on Earth.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

The lessons learned and discoveries made in space exploration could deliver huge benefits to Earth’s inhabitants and could even help us tackle some of our biggest challenges including climate issues.

Being able to make space-travellers more autonomous (e.g. not having to return quickly because of limited supplies, or waiting for delivery of supplies) could enable longer, more productive missions such as setting up a base on the moon. This would also be better from an environmental and sustainability perspective – the need for fewer rocket flights. The value of the 3D metal printer is, therefore, in helping this autonomy and quality of space travel to occur, thereby moving us one small but important step forward toward the future that previous missions and science fiction had suggested.

There are, of course, also remote places on Earth (or under the sea) where the space-sized version of the metal 3D printer could be particularly useful, so it’s actually an important technological advance that offers hitherto unavailable possibilities.