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Updated: July 27, 2020 12 things that define Maine

UMaine’s new 3D printer is the largest in the world

Photo / Laurie Schreiber The University of Maine’s new 3D printer is the largest in the world, capable of producing objects up to 100 feet long by 22 feet wide by 10 feet high.

In October 2019, the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, in Orono, unveiled the world’s largest 3D printer — a $2.5 million exquisitely calibrated machine that can turn out objects as large as a boat in a matter of days.

Manufactured by Ingersoll Machine Tools in Rockford, Ill., the printer is capable of running along a 100-foot bed and extruding printer filament at a rate of 500 pounds per hour. Tolerances are within 6,000th of an inch.

The university’s acquisition of the printer was an outgrowth of the composite center’s research, conducted the past 15 years, in combining cellulosic nano and micro fibers with thermoplastic materials, said Habib Dagher, the center’s founding executive director. It signals the latest step in an additive manufacturing collaboration, funded by the Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, between the composites center and the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The initiative is designed to expand the potential of the 3D printing market and create a new market for Maine’s forest products industry.

Oak Ridge and UMaine are working with the forest products industry to produce new bio-based materials that will be conducive to 3D printing a variety of large, structurally demanding products. The printer is expected to support civilian, defense and infrastructure applications.

The printer can handle complex objects, such as a full-size patrol boat prototype that was displayed at the unveiling and certified by a Guinness World Records adjudicator as the largest 3D printed object in the world.

The combination of printer capability with new composites utilizing Maine-based cellulose nano fiber is seen as a new era for Maine’s bio economy, putting the forest industry front and center as a partner in creating bioderived recyclable material systems.

For UMaine, the printer’s value includes new opportunities to cultivate interdisciplinary research as well as next-generation innovators for workforce development.

The center is developing new software and hardware technologies to integrate with the printer. That includes high-performance computer connections for even faster and more precise printing, and artificial intelligence and sensor capabilities to make the printer “smart,” able to automatically adjust print patterns as needed, and able to produce “born certified” parts, meaning the end-product is ready for real-world use.

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