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Industry Insights|Students 3D-Printed the World’s First Largest 8-Meter Patrol Boat in 72 Hours

With 3D printing technology more and more mature, people are constantly creating innovations with more 3D printing materials and larger sizes at a faster printing speed. Reports have unveiled news of 3D-printed bridges, houses, and even rockets. Recently, researchers at the University of Maine have only spent 72 hours building an 8-meter-long patrol boat with 3D printing.


The 3D printed patrol boat is an essential part of the US Army program. With the support from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, the University of Maine team got into this 3D printing process with the 3D printer produced by Ingersoll Machine Tool Company in Illinois.

Maine University believes that for shipbuilding, a common industry in Maine, large 3D printers will significantly reduce the cost and time to manufacture new ships. Maine University believes that large 3D printers will significantly reduce the cost and time of shipbuilding, the common industry in Maine.

Normally, the printing volume of the 3D printer determines the largest size of the 3D printed objects, which seems not larger than a household refrigerator. Researchers have spent years coming up with ways to scale up the printing size, such as mounting a printing device on an external stand. However, the results are often disappointing due to its slow speed and inaccurate quality, which often requires a lot of manual post-processing.



The large 3D printer developed by the University of Maine in the United States overcomes the problem of printing scale by suspending the nozzle of the 3D printer, which is capable of extruding molten thermoplastic resin containing carbon fiber. Under the control of the computer, the nozzle moves horizontally, building the desired object layer by layer. After each layer is completed, the nozzle is raised slightly and another layer is deposited thereon until the object is printed. Under the control of the computer, the nozzle moves horizontally, producing the desired object layer by layer. After each layer is solidified, the nozzle is raised slightly and another layer is deposited thereon until the object finishes printing.

The large 3D printer developed by the University of Maine is capable of extruding material at a rate of 70 kilograms per hour. It can now produce an object of 30 meters long, 7 meters wide and 3 meters high, and can increase the printing size by constructing a larger gantry crane. The robot arm that configures the nozzle is equipped with an automatic milling head for polishing the surface of the printed object.

Researchers at the University of Maine are also trying to change the nature of synthetic materials to make their production processes more environmentally friendly. Habib Dagher, one of the project leaders, said that their goal is to complete 3D printing with a material containing 50% wood, which will produce a composite material of strength and weight comparable to aluminum. With further research, the team wanted to process 3D printing at a rate of 230 kilograms per hour. Researchers have also recently used cellulosic fibers and a filament made from corn to print molds for building the roof of a ship. In order to make the production process more environmentally friendly, this mold can be recycled so that the material can be reused.




Craig Blue, the director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, said that making molds and producing component parts would be an important task of large-size 3D printing technology. There have been two main reasons contributing to the high cost of mold manufacturing, one for the professional skills required by molding manufacturing, another for the limited production scale of mold manufacturing. 3D printing technology, on the contrary, is capable of processing multi-task printing at the same time at a relatively low cost.

Besides, 3D printing technology is capable of producing special shape mold for concrete castings, which is often made by skilled carpenters with wood. Those molds can only withstand casting for three or four times, so the construction workers have a large demand on the molds. However, the 3D printed molds, as Bruce said, are made from carbon fiber reinforced plastic that can withstand at least 200 castings.  

The Oak Ridge National Laboratory is also working on the study of direct architectural 3D printing for concrete structures. Based on previous practical on-spot architectural 3D printing, it is not suggested to complete the skyscrapers and other large buildings in one go, but to divide it into some smaller parts and to assemble them. It is more suitable for complex building structures to 3D print prefabricated concrete components under factory controlled conditions and then assemble different parts on site. A few days before, researchers at Tsinghua University in China also adopted this approach to finish building 26-meter footbridges in Shanghai, China. They utilized a pair of robotic arms to squeeze concrete mixed with polyethylene fibers, printed prefabricated components, and assembled the different parts. The whole process took 450 hours and only cost two-thirds of the traditional concrete pouring bridge.




"I was delighted to join UMaine's celebration unveiling the world's largest 3D printer and largest 3D-printed object," said Sen. Susan Collins. The giant named 3Dirigo is the world's largest 25-foot 3D-printed Patrol Boat built within 72 hours by the Advanced Structures and Composites Center’s prototype polymer 3D printer, which was recently inducted into the Guinness World Records for being the largest printer of its kind in the world.