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

1st May 2024

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.