The biggest 3D printer in the world builds a house in 80 hours

The world's largest 3D printer is seen Tuesday, April 23, 2024, at the University of Maine, in Orono, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

The University of Maine has revealed its latest innovation: the world’s largest polymer 3D printer, dubbed the Factory of the Future 1.0 (FoF 1.0). This impressive printer boasts the ability to produce objects up to 96 feet long, 32 feet wide, and 18 feet high, making it a groundbreaking addition to the realm of additive manufacturing. Remarkably, it can churn out items at a rate of up to 500 pounds per hour, showcasing its remarkable speed and efficiency compared to traditional manufacturing methods.

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What sets the FoF 1.0 apart is its versatility. It seamlessly transitions between various printing techniques, including large-scale additive manufacturing, subtractive manufacturing, continuous tape layup, and robot arm operations. Such flexibility makes it an invaluable tool across diverse industries, ranging from construction and infrastructure development to military vehicle production.

One of the printer’s standout features is its commitment to sustainability. Dr. Habib Dagher, Director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Centre at the University of Maine, emphasizes its use of recyclable materials, particularly biobased substances like wood residuals. This eco-friendly approach aligns with efforts to promote circular manufacturing processes, allowing for the reuse and repurposing of printed materials.

The potential applications of this groundbreaking technology are vast, with advocates highlighting its capacity to address pressing societal needs. In Maine, where an estimated 80,000 additional homes are needed by 2030, there is keen interest in leveraging the FoF 1.0 to expedite affordable housing construction. By utilizing abundant wood residuals from local sawmills, the printer offers a promising solution to the housing crisis while driving down costs.

However, beyond its role in housing construction, the printer has garnered attention from governmental institutions seeking to bolster national security. Funding from entities like the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Defence, and the Department of Energy underscores the printer’s potential to contribute to the development of lightweight, rapidly deployable vessels critical for defence purposes.

The FoF 1.0 represents a significant leap forward in additive manufacturing technology, surpassing its predecessor in size and capabilities. With plans underway to establish a dedicated research laboratory, the Green Engineering and Materials (GEM) Factory of the Future, the University of Maine is poised to further advance sustainable manufacturing practices. As Dr. Dagher notes, each innovation serves as a stepping stone toward designing even larger and more efficient printers in the future.