In the comments to several 3D printing blogs, we've talked about when it will be possible to print natural materials like wood. Does that sound like magic? It's not. You can 3D-print with wood filaments right now, using a choice of filament colors and widths.
True, the materials are usually a combination of wood with some type of polymer binding ingredient, and there's a range of price and quality. Objects made from these materials also vary in esthetic appeal, depending on design, materials, and finishing processes. Some look like plastic, some resemble low-grade, rough-cut lumber. Others are stunningly beautiful, high-end art objects made by architectural design firms that look just like the real thing.
Click the image below to see photos of 3D printed wood.
Architectural design firm Emerging Objects, like several other companies, claims to have invented 3D printing with wood. Theirs, they say, is a strong and rigid material, which seems to be true judging by photos of objects made with it, like this architectural wood-block element. It was invented as an alternate building material. (Source: Emerging Objects)
Great step forward Ann. This could open new doors for the manufacturing of wooden products. One can now make wood products according to customers' preferences. Without much cost, the users can enlarge or abridge the size of the wooden products they want, and also use their preferred type of wood in the manufacturing phase. As a result of intermixing of various materials with wood, new and unique hybrid products would be produced. Perhaps we could save some trees in the process as well. No?
Thanks, Daniyal_Ali. Although I was surprised that it was already being done. The maker space isn't my beat so I'm less aware of what people are doing there, but it's a start, and the quality is about what you'd expect from those machines. The high-end art stuff is what really knocked my socks off. I think there's a great potential for recycling and, as you point out, saving trees.
This is really an excellent development, since all kinds of things can be made, and not much limitation on the shapes of things.
What is a real added advantage is that the wood fibers can come from our own "deconstructed" housing, those buildings being torn down for various reasons. So there is no need to harvest trees to make all of this stuff, the feedstock is already available, for free, or just for the taking. So using wood like this provides a doubled benefit.
William, the source of the wood fibers wasn't always clear, but that would be a great idea if it's feasible. The fibers in old wood shavings & sawdust are pretty different from those in new wood shavings & sawdust, and might not have the right properties.
Ann, It is certainly true that shavings and sawdust do change as they oxidize and their moisture level varies. But I was thinking of the whole lumber, which while being old has been protected from the majority of the destructive forces. I would be interesting to find out from the developers of this technology about what would work and what would not work so well. One thing is certain is that wood that has been sheltered for 50 years has a much lower moisture content.
I actually meant whole wood as well as the shavings and sawdust made from it. I've now lived in two old houses that I've helped rebuild parts of, and repurposing old wood has been interesting. Most of it that wasn't downright rotten simply was weaker, especially if it was a softwood like pine or Doug fir. In the west we also have redwood, which can last for a very long time without decaying. I decided to keep the 60-year-old redwood bones of my current cabin because they're in excellent condition, and you can't get that quality redwood anymore for any price. But I'm replacing most of the Doug fir. I've had much of that chipped and it sure is different from fresh new wood chips. So I guess it really depends on what wood, where it's located, what job it did in the building, and what kind of damage--insect, moisture, etc--it underwent.
tekochip, what's really amazing to me is that those redwood studs and joists and clapboards aren't even classy expensive heartwood, that incredibly beautiful stuff that still exists around here in a few old homes. They were just the regular redwood lumber of the day. I bet yours is even nicer looking at twice the age of mine.
Sadly, not in my house. The timbers were meant to be hidden, so no attempt was made to even plane the wood. The tenon joints are really something to behold for visitors to the basement, though.
The worst part of an old house, besides closet space, of course, is that nothing in the house is even close to square. I have one wall that varies 3" in a six foot span as it meets a corner but I would never trade for a newer home.
tekochip sorry to hear that--about visibility. I forget how small others' basements can be: I'm on a hillside so I get to look at the entire understructure of my house (with one small exception). The beautiful old wood I mentioned that's visible is, in part, in a (very small) closet. I'm glad to say that even though much of the original, 60-year-old parts of the multi-decade cabin are not entirely square, most of the later stuff is, and we've done some re-engineering and tweaking to fix that, as much as is possible. But nowhere has it varied as much as 3 in in 6 ft. Gack! Our main problem has been not being level, especially between "wings" built in different decades, as we're close to a creek and on adobe clay soil. For instance, until we elevated the head of the bedframe, every time we lay down to go to sleep it felt like we were falling. And I agree--I would much rather have an old house than a new one.
Ann, the very hardest and toughest wood that I have worked with is old yellow pine. Not only is it a challenge for the power saw, but to nail the pieces I had to drill holes for the spikes. The benefit of using such tough old wood is that I know that it will not break when I step on that part of my roof.
I found the wood left over from when my house was remodeled by the previous owners, who stuck the unused pieces in the attic of the garage, so I know that it was fairly old. What I don't know is if new yellow pine is that tough, or does the toughness come as it ages.
Thanks, William. I'm not familiar with yellow pine; sounds very different from the soft pine I'm used to. Generally speaking, the toughness of the wood starts first with the species of the tree, and then with its age when cut. That's one of the problems caused by only harvesting younger trees for lumber: they're not as strong. But, at least with redwoods, all the big old ones got logged out decades ago: kind of like overfishing.
While yellow pine is hard and durable, I have never come across any wood as hard to work with as old weathered oak. I do not know what kind of oak it was (red, black, white or any other) but when my father-in-law tried to reuse the oak from a barn he dismantled he had to drill holes to get nails in. He even tried the hardened concrete nails. There is a big market around this area for weathered oak. It is used for decorative purposes on both interior and exterior walls where the builder is trying to replicate rustic pioneer sort of building.
Weathered oak is indeed a very hard material, and also a lot moreexpensive than hard yellow pine. My best results in using it have been with a Bridgeport milling machine and a very sharp cutter. Feed rates slower than for steel seem to work best. Sharp drill bits and pack drilling are the best choices for producing holes.
This article is quite and interesting. The 3D printing industry is definitely unbound by the creators using this rapid prototyping tool. It was only a matter of time that someone would have found a way to print wood using this technology. We are definitely living in the age of DIY manufacturing.
It's amazing to see how 3D printing has become disruptive in the sense the technology was created to make rapid prototypes for engineering analysis. With the help of the Maker community the technology has transformed where printing of non-plastic materials are becoming the norm. Definitely an interesting technology to keep on one's radar.
mrdon, I think it's cool that many innovations are either starting in, or at least becoming popular among, the maker community. Serious materials development, though, requires investment dollars as shown with the first slides from the architects. But the maker community definitely is a venue for spreading new ideas, even if the execution quality often falls short.
You are so right. The Maker community is definitey a creative venue for exploring product ideas through fairs, workshops, and conferences. The collaboration that exists at these events is very contagious. Here's a new conference Dale Dougherty and the Maker Media company are holding next month.
Agreed. If this is strong and stable enough to use in architecture, we may be in for a new era of design. Since the late 50's things have become boxier and blander. This could help bring back craftsmanship and detailing without the high cost.
Thanks Anne, I am really fascinated with this technology of 3d printing the wood that is really very great and somewhat equivalent to MAGIC only :p . Like it will be a great help for wood lovers to customize wood products according to their taste and demand . But will it be expensive like we all know that original wood products are costly will this technology be more expensive than wood products , equivalent to or lesser than that .
Debera, it depends on what costs you're comparing. Real wood is getting expensive, as you'll know if you've tried to buy real wood furniture lately. A lot of furniture is now made out of various wood products like different grades of particle board. All but one of these materials in the slideshow are maker-grade and not terribly attractive, although some of that may be due to the designs of the objects made with them. The exception is the material created by the architects, which we show first in the slideshow. I suspect that's very expensive, and understandably so.
This is a fascinating concept; imagine if we thing really large! Imagine a 3-truck convoy rolling up to a building site - one a tanker full of the fast-setting liquid resin, one a bulk carrier of sawdust from a nearby lumber mill, and the third a flat-bed carrying a self-propelled fabber. In less than 30 minutes, hoses from each of the feed-stock trucks are connected to the fabber and it begins house construction.
Wall studs would actually be integral ribs to the outer skin of the house. Heck, even the inner wall could be done at the same time and insulation pumped in from above after the wall was complete.
TJM, I really can't imagine that 3D printed wood is a good choice for building a house, it would be far more expensive than a lot of very good alternate materials. My choice for floors would be the insulating concrete, and for walls I would use the steel studs and sheetrock panels, with foam-in-place insulation as needed for both thermal and sound isolation. And the roof supports would be either composite wood trusses, or those steel trusses, with waferboard sheathing and some form of steel roofing.
Not only would it go thgather faster and be simpler to keep square, but the installation of wiring, plumbing, and HVAC ducting would be better. A very large benefit would be much better resistance to moisture caused rot and mold, and being fundamentally non-combustible. So not much of a fire hazard. The very real downside is that it would cost more, and in this state I would have to fight with the building inspectors to use those materials, and to avoid having to hire contractors for every stage of the project. But it could be a great place, and it could outlast many other ways of building houses.
William, you'd have to fight with the building inspectors--and would probably lose--in just about every state to use novel materials for building. I know people who were the first in Santa Cruz County to get a straw bale house approved, even though the tech has been around a long time and is well understood. There are some good reasons for the conservative stance of planning departments, although they can also get quite entrenched in outmoded belief systems.
I would not want a straw bale house in Michigan primarily because it would not last very long. We have way too much rain and snow, it would absorb enough moisture to decompose, and then it would be unhealthy to live in as well. But in those counties that avarage a half inch of rainfall during a monsoon year a straw house might work out quite well.
Besides that, there is a real problem with the inspector simply "not liking" something, and with nothing in the code saying it is OK, the only recourse is an expensive lawsuit. So the person gets his way just because he can, with no valid explanation even offered. This is why so much work is done without permits or inspections. Common sense is often not allowed. And it seems that some of the local codes predate many modern inventions of the past few years.
William, it rains here, too. Straw bale houses aren't what you think they are: I suggest you try googling the technology. All those problems have been solved by the construction methods used. The code was changed here to accommodate that house and the technology, and it's been changed elsewhere as well.
Ann, I was thinking about a hunting lodge that had been built with old hay balesthat were a really good deal, from what I was told. I visited it in it's third year and it was not so very wonderful at that time. But it certainly was a lot warmer than a tent in that part of Michigan, in November. I don't think that anybody chose to use it in following years.
Well, that explains it. What you describe and the modern straw bale technology are worlds apart. Basically, straw bales are used inside the walls and protected, of course, from weather. So the walls are super thick and it's excellent insulation. Many very old building technologies are way better than what we use now, which is determined more by commercial interests than by practicalities.
Ann, I suppose that straw should indeed last a lot longer than hay, since it has much less food value and a whole lot less moisture. I can see that hay bales with cement sprayed on the outside could resist the weather, and if they were covered with adobe on the inside the fire hazard would be small. But I don't think I would count on them for structural strength for the long term, since they are still organic materials with a very high surface to volume ratio. Fine for a single story house but probably not for a multi story residence.
How about a machine to 3D print with a straw and clay mix? It would need to have a robot that could build walls, so it would certainly not be a traditional machine. But it is certainly within the grasp of present technology. If anybody develops this concept and is a big success, they owe me a lunch.
Modern straw bale technology is a long way from what you're describing, and it's by no means an impermanent structure: a lot more than straw is involved. Otherwise, local building/planning departments would never have approved it. Mud or clay mixed with straw is called "wattle and daub": it's an ancient, and very impermanent, building technology suitable for very dry locations. So developing a 3D printer for this material mix wouldn't be very useful. There are 3D printers that use dirt or other powders mixed with a binder of polymer for buildings, those exist and/or are being developed by architects. We've reported on a few of them.
TJ, you have a great imagination. So far, most of these 3D printed wood materials are not being designed for structural purposes. The stuff made by the architects, which they describe as "moderately strong," appears to be aimed more at decorative features or non-load bearing walls (curtain walls, e.g.) than load-bearing structural elements. But I bet it could be strengthened considerably.
Contour Crafting has been around for several years, but they're by no means the only company involved in 3D printed buildings. Others include D-Shape, StoneSpray, Freeform Construction, Marble Eco Design, and KamerMaker, all based in Europe.
I can certainly understand why this is possible considering the detail 3-D printing can accomplish. Wood grain finishes make the piece otherwise it would not be distinguishable from any other "printed" design. 3-D printing always amazes me relative to the creative aspects of what can be done. Great post Ann.
You're welcome, bobjengr. And good point about the wood grain detail, although the amount of detail possible varies from one 3D printing process to another. SLA, for example, is known for greater surface detail than FDM.
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