The first 3D-printed boat in the world took to the water Thursday at the University of Maine, with three quarters of Maine’s congressional delegation in it.
U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, Rep. Jared Golden, and founding Executive Director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center Habib Dagher boarded the boat as it floated in the center’s wave pool.
The boat is not only the largest 3D-printed object in the world. It was also made by the world’s largest 3D printer in a little more than 70 hours. The University of Maine is now home to that printer, and it’s working with a national laboratory to make 3D printing more useful in manufacturing. The hope is also that the collaboration provides a boost to Maine’s forest products industry by finding new uses for wood-based products.
About 300 people witnessed the unveiling of the printer and the boat at UMaine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center on Thursday.
“This has never been done in the world,” Dagher said. “The purpose of this is to see what’s possible.”
A Guinness World Records adjudicator presented three world records to the composites center at the unveiling: for the world’s largest polymer 3D printer, the largest 3D-printed boat and the largest solid 3D-printed item.
Building a boat that size by conventional methods would ordinarily take weeks or months, but the new 3D printer sped up the process.
The printer, manufactured by Ingersoll Machine Tools, has the capacity to print objects 100 feet long, 20 feet wide and 10 feet tall, which makes it six times bigger than the second largest 3D printer in use.
The 3D printer came to UMaine through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, which was announced in May. The partnership combines Oak Ridge’s expertise in 3D printing with UMaine’s knowledge of composites to print objects made from sustainable materials.
The printer can be thought of as a giant hot glue gun anchored to a metal arm. A raw material is fed into the printer as glue is fed into a glue gun. The arm that it is mounted onto the printer can be programmed to move around to print any three-dimensional object. In the case of the 3D-printed boat, the printer took a combination of carbon fibers and plastic and printed the boat.
Earlier this year, Oak Ridge and UMaine worked on a separate 3D printing project that resulted in a mold for boats made from a material that was half wood and half plastic.
This particular printer can also be used as a machining tool to smooth out objects that come out of the 3D printer, which come out ridged. The printer head can be replaced with a machining head, which is not common in 3D printers.
“That’s a very unique machine,” Dagher said.
The printer will be up and running in a month, Dagher said. Research for commercial use of the printer will start soon after.
The Maine Technology Institute has provided funding to boat builders in the state so they can work with the composites center to experiment with boat building using the 3D printer.
The use of the printer can extend to many other industries as well.
“We’re not just looking at boats,” Dagher said. “We’re looking at all kinds of markets.”
Representatives from the construction industry and the U.S. Army are also expected to work with the composites center on other applications.
As part of the testing process, Dagher and his team used the printer to build a prototype of a mold that can be used to build bridge supports and a command center similar to what the Army uses.
Watch UMaine’s 3D-printed boat take to the water