December 2, 2023: Updates in 3D Printing – Metal Powder, Additive Construction and More

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Today’s 3D Printing News Briefs start with business news, highlighting Mintek, South Africa’s national mineral research organization’s acquisition of an AMAZEMET machine. The following sections discuss three additive construction stories, research on sustainable resin, tiny sensors that can detect environmental changes, and 3D printing in microgravity. Finally, a story on a 3D-printed commercial delivery van is covered.

Mintek Strengthens AM in South Africa with AMAZEMET Machine Acquisition

Mintek, South Africa’s national mineral research organization, has acquired the rePOWDER ultrasonic atomization and alloy development machine from AMAZEMET after a years-long procurement process. This acquisition is part of efforts to bolster the nation’s minerals-based and 3D printing industries. In addition to the rePOWDER, Mintek is also planning to add a metal 3D printer to its setup for testing and creating button castings and powders. This will help in verifying the experimental modeling of novel metal alloys. The machine has the capacity to process nearly all feedstock materials into uniform powder particles with excellent flow. Moreover, unlike gas atomizers, this ultrasonic unit can produce castings and employ small amounts of metals, crucial for R&D projects that use precious metal resources. Dr. Hein Moller, Mintek’s chief engineer said, “We have a very active metal 3D printing community in South Africa, but we don’t have the infrastructure to produce the powders,” underlining the importance of not letting South Africa fall behind in its AM operations. The AMAZEMET rePOWDER machine is set to aid in this aspect.

“We have a very active metal 3D printing community in South Africa, but we don’t have the infrastructure to produce the powders,” said Dr. Holler. He added that the AMAZEMET rePOWDER machine will definitely help in this aspect.

3D Concrete Printing & Traditional Architecture Combine in Hexastone

At Nordbau 2023, Northern Europe’s premier construction trade show, the Hexastone project was unveiled. This project is a fusion of traditional architecture and 3D concrete printing (3DCP). Led by Professors Herrmann and Spaeth from the Technische Hochschule Lübeck, and aided by additive construction companies Vertico and Sika, Hexastone proposes a new approach to building. The structure consists of a dome with 102 interlocking stones, each having a diameter of 4.5 meters. The structural blueprint of the shell was created by using simulations in a computational form-finding procedure. The geometry of the shell uses a mix of square and hexagonal modules, which were designed applying tessellation methods. In traditional brickwork, curvature is obtained through tapered mortar joints; the hexa-shell on the other hand renders this curvature using an inclined perimeter for each stone. Paving the way for a new era of construction, it took just two days for Vertico to 3D print each unique stone using digital processes.

Vertico said in a statement, “Moving away from the traditional ‘construct and destroy’ model, this pavilion is conceived with a focus on the future. It was showcased at Nordbau 2023 and will, later on, be disassembled, only to be reassembled at a location yet to be disclosed. Endorsing ‘Design for Disassembly’, this concept cuts down on waste and promotes sustainability in construction. Since the seams between the stones face compression forces alone, the mortar used only makes up for tolerances. Therefore, to allow for easy disassembly, the stone contact surfaces are coated with a non-adhesive agent that eliminates tensile force transfer.”

College Architecture Students Build Affordable 3D Printed House

Image Credit: KABC

On the Burbank campus of Woodbury University, you can now find a trendy, environmentally-friendly, and affordable 3D printed home, created by a group of architecture students. The 425-square-foot, open plan property, called the Solar Futures Home, is powered by renewable energy, and was built using sustainable materials. Plus, while the average home in Burbank costs around $1.2 million, this house is less than a quarter of that price, as it only cost the students $250,000 to build it. The house, which was created as part of a national collegiate competition from the Department of Energy, took 24 students about 15 months to build.

Recent graduate Jade Royer said, “I think it looks really nice. I’m glad that we kept it raw concrete… we didn’t add any paints or anything like this on top of it so we can see all of the different layers and the actual material.”

“I also enjoy the kitchen because it uses a lot of sustainable materials as well,” said fellow graduate Jessica Gomez. “The dining chairs and the table are made from recyclable paper, so we try to think sustainably from the building but also with how we wanted to furnish it.”

First 3D Printed Social Housing Project in Europe

PERI 3D Construction in Germany uses COBOD’s 3D construction printer for the first publicly funded multi-family house.

The first publicly funded multi-family house to be 3D printed in Europe is underway. This social housing project, located in the former coal mining center of Lünen, Germany, combines 3D concrete printing (3DCP) with public housing subsidies to build a three-story apartment building. Each floor will have two units, ranging from 670-890 square feet, for a total of six apartments, and while the first two floors will be 3D printed, the top floor is being built with a timber hybrid construction method. Additionally, conventional construction methods will be used to build the foundation, base, and filigree slabs for the building, and the top floor will be cladded using façade panels. This is the third larger-scale construction project in Germany this year alone that PERI 3D Construction has worked on with COBOD International‘s printers.

“This project continues the trend that we have seen the last coupe of years, where the technology has made some remarkable leaps forward, moving away from just being used for small houses on one floor to also being used for larger and larger projects with multiple floors also outside the residential market,” said Henrik Lund-Nielsen, Founder and General Manager of COBOD International.

“PERI’s German projects in 2023 including the data centre, football clubhouse and now an apartment building are a testament to this trend.”

Penn State Developing Plant-Derived Materials to Replace AM Plastics

A team of agricultural and biological engineers from Penn State received a three-year, $650,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA) to develop a sustainable, plant-derived material that could replace the plastics often used in large-format stereolithography, or SLA 3D printing. They’ll work to develop chemical transformations of the plant-derived biomaterials nanocellulose and lignin for the creation of renewable SLA resins that also contain soybean oil. Then, these materials can hopefully be used as a substitute for costly, highly-engineered resins that are mixed from petrochemical components.

“Our project team’s long-term goal is to develop new and sustainable bioproducts from lignocellulosic biomass — or dry plant matter — that economically enable a low-carbon bioeconomy. The objective of this proposal, which is a step toward our long-term goal, is to create a renewable resin material comprised of agriculturally derived components that will enable large-format 3D printing by stereolithography,” explained team leader Stephen Chmely, assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

Virginia Commonwealth University Researchers 3D Printing Cilia Sensors

Nanoscience and nanotechnology doctoral candidate Phillip Glass and his advisor Daeha Joung, PhD, from the Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Physics, were inspired by tiny hair-like cilia. They studied these structures for their ability to boost a person’s senses and detect subtle environmental changes. This interest feeds into their work on mechanosensing, which involves the ways the body collects external stimuli such as light, temperature, or movement and sends it to the brain.

Mechanoreceptors, the organs or cells in charge of sensing, are part of their research focus. Glass and Joung are applying 3D printing technology to create tiny sensors that resemble hairs. These potential applications range from minimally-invasive surgical robots to industrial machines that measure air or water flow, to a robot capable of reading Braille.

For the creation of these sensors, a custom 3D printer and a mixture of polycaprolactone (PCL) and conductive graphene were used. The flexibility of the technology allows for the creation of differently-sized sensors with ease.

“One of the huge selling points of our technology is that we can print different-sized hairs, which can feel the stimulus differently. Really long hairs bend more easily than short ones, so while other types of airflow sensors can only detect a single range of flow, we can print our cilia in different sizes and spacings and make them more sensitive to a wide range of stimuli,” said Glass.

You can learn more in their published research article.

3D Printing in Microgravity to Advance Space Colonization

It’s necessary to manufacture important equipment and materials onsite when you’re on an extended outer space mission, because it’s so time-consuming, heavy, and expensive to transport the items from Earth. The Microgravity Research Team from West Virginia University is exploring how 3D printing in a weightless environment could help advance and support long-term space habitation and exploration. Their recent focus has been how microgravity affects 3D printed titania foam, which has great potential for applications like water purification and blocking ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The work allows them to see the role gravity plays in how the foam is extruded out of the nozzle and spreads onto a substrate, and they also experiment with changing other variables in the print process, such as extrusion pressure and writing speed, to see how all the parameters interact to tune the filament’s shape in a weightless environment.

“Transporting even a kilogram of material in space is expensive and storage is limited, so we’re looking into what is called ‘in-situ resource utilization…”

You can learn more in their published research article.

3D Printed Electric Delivery Van First in Range of Commercial Vehicles

Finally, British sustainable mobility company HELIXX announced its first demonstrator vehicle, which is to be the first in a full range of commercial vehicles. The all-electric delivery van, with an aim to “support sustainable economic development in emerging megacities,” uses 3D printing for all of its cosmetic and structural body parts. According to TopGear, the idea is to build the van in local flat pack “mobility hubs” around the globe, because the body only features five key parts that simply “click and bond” together, without any welding required. HELIXX believes this will simplify the vehicle manufacturing process by up to 50%.

This 3D printed commercial delivery van is a single-seater vehicle with a central driving position, and measures only 3.2 meters long and 1.5 meters wide, but it has a 500 kg payload and 1,200 liters of space in the back; with a 140 cm long load bay and 110 cm wide rear door, a shipping pallet can easily fit inside. Starting with this delivery van, HELIXX is planning to develop a whole range of commercial vehicles, including a pickup truck, closed-body taxi with back seats, and an open-bodied rickshaw vehicle. Production for the van is set to begin in 2024, with a run of 100 vehicles built in the UK.

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