Sep 13, 2016 | By Alec

Bigger is always better, and increasing a 3D printer’s build space is usually the number one priority for every hardware developer. But when is big big enough? In many ways, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)’s BAAM 3D printer (Big Area Additive Manufacturing 3D printer) is the benchmark, as it is big enough to 3D print both homes and cars. In fact, they combined the two in the AMIE project, consisting of a symbiotic 3D printed house and car. Recently, ORNL even set a new record for the world’s biggest 3D print with a 17.5 feet long, 5.5 feet wide and 1.5 feet tall wing tool 3D printed for Boeing.

But it seems as though that record will be broken in the near future, as ORNL just announced a huge new project at IMTS 2016 in Chicago. Together with the Illinois-based Ingersoll, they will soon begin development on the world’s largest 3D printer. Illustrating ORNL’s penchant for fantastic names, this forthcoming WHAM 3D printing system (Wide and High Additive Manufacturing) will feature a gargantuan build volume of 23' x 10' x 46' (feet, not inches) – or 7m x 3m x 14m. Expected to 3D print up to 1000lb. of material per hour, it will change large-scale 3D printing as we know it. In contrast, the BAAM 3D printer is about to test a 50lb. extrusion system, developed by Strangpresse.

This new collaboration will also see Ingersoll, a developer of machine tools, step into the 3D printing market for the first time. And they are doing so in style, as the WHAM will represent an order of magnitude increase in speed and size over any existing model out there. While no precise deadline target has been set for the WHAM, it is expected to become commercially available within the next 18 to 24 months. Once ready, it will be marketed under the MasterPrint name.

What’s more, it promises to be as state-of-the-art as a 3D printing could possibly be. While not a lot of technical details have been shared yet, one thing is certain: the WHAM will be multifunctional. Ingersoll already revealed that the 3D printer will be able to automatically exchange its extrusion unit for a high-speed 5-axis milling attachment for subtractive finishing. To do so, the engineers will draw on Ingersoll’s experience with CNC machining and automated fiber placement machine development. “Our machine design expertise, combined with the ability to develop a complete process for our customers, makes WHAM a logical step forward. Our partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory gives us a huge advantage,” says Ingersoll CEO Tino Oldani.

While the WHAM will doubtlessly use various materials over time, Ingersoll is initially focusing on Techmer’s ABS composite plastic, which is reinforced with 10 percent chopped carbon fiber. “We’re still in technology development,” chief engineer Curtis Goffinski said at a press conference at IMTS 2016. “We have some things to figure out.”

Obviously, this forthcoming 3D printer will heavily rely on ORNL’s experience with large-scale 3D printing, but Ingersoll’s engineering experience will guide most of the project. “Ingersoll brings years of experience engineering massive equipment in the composites area, and we look forward to a successful partnership,” said Bill Peter, director of ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility.

But the real question is: what could such a gargantuan 3D printer possibly be used for? The main targets right now are the wind energy, aerospace, automotive and defense industries. The current record holder for biggest 3D print in the world, a tool for attaching wing components to Boeing aircraft, could be a good indicator of what is coming. Records are about to be broken.



Posted in 3D Printer



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