Jul 8, 2016 | By Benedict

Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) are testing the effectiveness of a bamboo-PLA 3D printing material, and have used Cincinnati Incorporated’s Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) 3D printer to print large objects, such as a table, using bamboo-PLA pellets.

3D printed bamboo-PLA table

Besides being adorable and cuddly, what do pandas and 3D printers have in common? Very little, you’d think, but according to new research from ORNL, 3D printers could soon embrace the black-and-white bear’s penchant for bamboo, the fast-growing grass which, as well as making up the bulk of a panda’s diet, can also be used in medicine, construction, and textiles. Researchers have developed 10% and 20% bamboo PLA composites which are 100% bio-based and fully sustainable, and have successfully 3D printed large objects from the environmentally friendly materials.

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) at ORNL have been exploring the possibilities of using bamboo and other bio-based feedstock materials in 3D printing, mixing the natural material with polylactic acid (PLA) in different ratios and then testing its properties. The scientists behind the unusual project found that a material with 10% bamboo content exhibited a higher elastic modulus than neat PLA, while a material with 20% bamboo content produced an even higher modulus.

According to the ORNL investigators behind the experiments, this bamboo-PLA 3D printing material could be useful not only for its structural properties, but for its extremely green credentials: bamboo grows extremely quickly, absorbs CO2, requires no chemicals, and even prevents erosion. These factors, combined with the versatility of the grass, make bamboo an attractive option for environmentally conscious additive manufacturers, who could use the newly developed bamboo-based pellets as a substitute for other, more traditional printing materials.

These pellets were created by adding chopped bamboo fibers, purchased from a Kentucky-based company, to PLA resin. With the help of a Knoxville-based company, ORNL mixed the two materials, creating 3D printable pellets which could, according to the researchers, be used to print manufacturing molds, prototypes, appliances, and furniture. Using the giant Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) 3D printer, Cincinnati Incorporated’s monster additive manufacturing system, (build volume: 6 m x 2.3 m x 1.9 m) the researchers were able to 3D print a bamboo-PLA table, a large hexagon, and a curl bar which showed no significant signs of warping.

Image credit: CINCINNATI Incorporated

3D printed bamboo-PLA curl bar (A)

3D printed hexagon (B)

This table (c) is 3D printed in the design of a tablecloth. It does not have table legs, but instead it is supported where the tablecloth touches the floor. (Images credit: ORNL)

“We are investigating the use of different types of cellulose fibers to develop feedstock materials with better mechanical performance that can increase the number of available composites and opportunities for sustainable practices,” said ORNL’s Soydan Ozcan, who was accompanied on the project by Vlastimil Kunc, William Peter, Halil Tekinalp, John Lindahl, and Lonnie Love.

Prior to ORNL’s experiments, 3D printing and bamboo had enjoyed a distant but meaningful relationship. Last year, Edmond Wong and Stratasys teamed up to create this 3D printed bamboo stool, while London-based Bamboo Bicycle Club has also used additive manufacturing technology to optimize its trendy bamboo-framed bikes. Neither of these projects actually fed bamboo through a 3D printer, however, making the ORNL project something of a milestone. Given the perpetual debate about whether 3D printing can provide a truly environmentally friendly alternative to traditional manufacturing techniques, the adoption of a natural, bamboo-based 3D printing materials would certainly lend some weight to the pro-AM cause.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Geoffrey Hoffman wrote at 7/10/2016 3:59:55 AM:

Want to know more about this..... Here in NC, we have an abundance of bamboo that needs to be managed in our urban areas & I thought maybe it could be a feedstock suitable for bio-fuels, but this application shows excellent promise.... For a neophyte like me, what materials could this possibly displace? PVC plastic? Graphite-embedded resins? I found this quite by chance on FaceBook, as I get postings from the American Bamboo Society. My alma mater, which is a large Southern US land grant University, could benefit greatly from further information. We have a plethora of technology & innovation programs + high tech companies in abundance that could further this research. I am a licensed architect who has done small-scale crafts with bamboo, but I can make the leap (again, through my alma mater) into implementing this in the building & construction trades, as using regularly-grown bamboo is almost too-challenging for traditional construction. This way, making it dimensional, with predictable performance specifications, can create an almost revolutionary product. I can be contacted at my e-mail address: hoffman.geoffrey@gmail.com

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