Additive manufacturing is all the thing now, and enthusiasts are convinced the technology will prove to be a game changer in many sectors. ”Additive manufacturing, free form fabrication and 3D printing are different names for the same thing: a machine printing objects layer by layer, based on a digital drawing”, says Marlene Johansson, director at Sliperiet, Umeå university.

”One of the main advantages of additive manufacturing is the opportunity to create complex products as one-piece constructions. This saves both material and assembly time. It is a technology predicted to drive a structural change – enabling more local production, lower costs, new design solutions and less environmental impact”, Marlene continues.

Additive manufacturing in series production

roligt-hus-1024x770Additive manufacturing is now beginning to be used in industrial series production, with aerospace and medical implants leading the way. Today, two percent of all orthopedic hip implants manufactured are 3D printed by Swedish Arcam. The aerospace industry aims to reduce fuel consumption through the use of printed components, as these can be made lighter and more efficient. Other current applications include turbine parts and medical instruments.

3D printing is commonly associated with small scale, complex products, developed in limited production runs – but the manufacture of larger components is becoming more and more feasible. One example is given by the Chinese construction company Shanghai WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Co: Using a printer with a capacity of 150 × 10 × 6,6 meters, ten 200 square meter houses were built in a single day by extruding recycled glass fiber-reinforced concrete in a layer-by-layer technique.

New fields of application are emerging, and as 3D printers become affordable, interest in using the technology grows. Compared to traditional methods such as casting or cutting, additive methods offer several advantages: lead time reduction, reduced costs for tooling and material and a much greater ability to customize. The environment benefits from a more optimized use of material, reduced need of chemicals, and lighter produced components and structures.

Cellulose based materials for housing

Umeå University and external parties have entered a joint project worth 35 MSEK to develop a large scale printer, capable of printing houses in a cellulose based ink.

”The idea is to develop technologies which can support the local manufacturing industry. To Sliperiet, this project – dubbed the +Project – is part of a wider strategy to increase collaboration and create an open and interdisciplinary environment of innovation. We make local companies meet with various areas of research, allowing them to crossbreed. Finding cellulose based materials suitable for large scale 3D printing is one of the stated goals. It could be used for window moulding and doors, even walls, and eventually entire houses”, says Marlene Johansson.

Additive manufacturing: the inside of a 3D printed house. Photo: Johan Gunséus.

The +Project is aimed at small and medium sized businesses in the construction and forest industries, along with companies in architecture, design and IT. Entrepreneurs, creators and businesses team up with academy, develop prototypes of products and services emanating from local raw materials and infrastructure, and bring them to market while exploring new circular business- and production models. A center of competence focusing on sustainable construction will be established within the project, and a world expo is planned for when it runs out in 2018 – to celebrate the region as a then world leader in sustainable building and digital manufacturing.

”For decades, drawings and house plans have been created digitally, while actual construction has remained a manual, tedious and expensive labor. Material and parts are transported long distances, and the process of assembly can take months to complete. The carbon footprint is substantial, as is the energy use throughout the value chain”, Linnéa Therese Dimitriou, Artistic Director at Sliperiet explains.

”These are important steps we are taking, to push northern Sweden to the forefront of large scale additive manufacturing. For the forest- and construction industries, it is an exciting opportunity and a chance to create new business prospects from the raw materials available in the region. 3D printing will also open new interesting possibilities for architects, both in over-all design but also in details and decorations. Environmentally, we anticipate many positive effects as well since materials can be used optimally”, Linnéa Therese concludes.

At Umeå University, the partners are the School of Architecture, the School of Business and Economics, the Department of Informatics and the Department of Applied Physics and Electronics. Research institutes Swedish ICT and SP Processum are also involved in the project, and the business world is represented by Revenues, White and The Network for Sustainable Construction and Real Estate Management in Cold Climates, among others. Umeå kommun and Region Västerbotten are co-financing the project.

The article was published in August 2015