As the old adage goes, “You either go big or go home.”; and in the case of the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, they DEFINITELY went big.
Using their ginormous in-house 3D printer which has a printing space of 22 by 100 feet and 10 feet high, they were able to print out a 25-foot long boat made from cellulose nanofibers (CNF).
Now before you jump to conclusions, the university is NOT entering the boating industry. The whole purpose of the project was to test whether large-scale 3D printed biobased materials can be used as a suitable substitute for metal when creating large objects.
See, as it becomes harder to 3D print objects the bigger they get, so do the requirements needed to keep the structure intact. The University of Maine wants to see if these biobased 3D prints can hold up to these requirements, and what better way to test this than by printing a large boat made out of CNF?
If you’re scratching your head trying to figure out what makes CNF so lucrative, it’s that its main component is wood. Wood pulp, to be exact. When mixed with thermoplastics, CNF fibers can become strong enough to hold a 5,000-pound boat afloat.
Should initial tests prove successful, the University of Maine and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory will continue to develop large-scale biobased 3D prints such as concrete formworks and bridge girders. By using these renewable materials, they can cut the time and production costs of large builds that require tons of metal. It’s also helpful to the environment; an added bonus.
With boats and small homes already under the 3D printing belt, the next decade is looking to be pretty interesting for all things additive manufacturing.