ORONO – The University of Maine has taken 3D printer technology and gone big, and now is floating a cost-saving idea to Maine boatbuilders.
A massive 3D printer being delivered to the UMaine is so big that it can print out a mold for a 100-foot boat. The Maine Technology Institute thinks the technology can help Maine shipbuilders save money and time.
MTI gave UMaine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center half a million to create a technology cluster that will encourage boat builders to explore 3D printing using UMaine’s system.
“What you see here right next to me is a 3D printed piece of plastic with wood in it,” said Habib Dagher, UMaine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center executive director. “Our goal is to be able to print with 50 percent wood by weight.”
Mixing wood with plastic is cheaper, and it makes the plastic stronger.
“It’s all about shortening the time from concept and production,” said Burr Shaw, Hinckley Company product engineering manager. “It’s all about reducing weight in parts and ultimately we can create shapes that we couldn’t do out of molded parts. Printed parts and printed molds you have total control over what’s inside and the shape of the part.”
“The actually 16 weeks of mold building can be shortened with 3D printing to 4 weeks,” he added later.
James Anderson, UMaine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, senior program manager, said boat builders use a lot of parts that need to be created.
“I used to work for a boat builder in Maine and we were forever buying tooling and making small parts and I knew the cost of tooling and the lead time was really high,” Anderson said Friday. “And 3D printing just seemed like common sense you know.”
Wood is broken down into a powder that can be mixed with plastics for use in the 3D printer, which lays down layer after layer to create items.
“We’re looking for new ways to use wood,” Dagher said. “One way to do that is to use a 3D printer and that’s why we’re going in that direction.”