3D printed wooden furniture could be shipped flat and then dried in shape
A new way to 3D print wood that takes advantage of warping could change the way we build things in the future – an innovation that could potentially save us time and money.
The challenge: Wood is made up of fibers that absorb moisture like a sponge. If the wood is not dried properly, the wood will eventually shrink, bending or twisting in different directions depending on the orientation of the fibers.
This is called “warping”, and it’s usually something we try to avoid – a warped door won’t close properly and a warped floor will look wavy rather than flat.
The idea: A team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJI) has now developed a new wood 3D printing technique that turns warping into a tool rather than a nuisance.
By mixing superfine, filtered sawdust with binders, they created an ink that could be extruded from a 3D printer. By printing the ink at different speeds and in different paths, they found they could control the shape the wood deformed into after drying.
A flat disc created by 3D printing wood ink in concentric circles would dry into a shape similar to a Pringles potato chip, for example, while a flat disc created by printing rays from a central point would dry in cone shape.
Faster printing resulted in more directional shrinkage as the ink dried, while slower speeds left the wood fibers oriented more randomly, causing the wood to shrink evenly in all directions.
Look forward: The team is still experimenting with its wood 3D printing technique, but in the future, it imagines manufacturers could print wooden objects, such as furniture, in flat layers and then ship them in sealed containers.
These flat packs would potentially cost less to ship than bulky ones, and once opened the ink would dry out and the object would warp into its final shape – no assembly required.
Researchers believe it may even be possible to Many times modify the shape of 3D printed objects in wood, to potentially bring an old piece of furniture back to life, for example.
“We hope to show that under certain conditions we can make these elements reactive – to humidity, for example – when we want to change the shape of an object again,” said co-lead researcher Eran Sharon.
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