Buoyed by composites technology and the world’s largest 3-D printer, the University of Maine launched itself into the record books as it unveiled the largest solid object ever produced by a 3-D printer, in Orono on Thursday.

The printer produced a 25-foot, 2 ½-ton boat using material that’s a blend of plastic and wood cellulose.

The boat was named the 3Dirigo and christened when Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, smashed a champagne bottle across its bow during a ceremony at the university’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center. A Guinness World Records adjudicator was on hand to certify three records: the world’s largest polymer 3-D printer, largest 3-D printed boat and largest solid 3-D printed item.

Habib Dagher, executive director of the composites center, said the previous record-holder for largest  boat created by a 3-D printer was a 4-foot rowboat.

The printer also was used to make a tactical shelter for soldiers and a mold for a bridge girder, both of which were unveiled at the ceremony Thursday.

3-D printing is part of a process called “additive manufacturing.” Working from a blueprint, a computer-controlled “printer” makes three-dimensional objects by adding layers of liquid that harden as they cool. The 3-D boat printed at the University of Maine was created over a three days in mid-September.

The printer cost $2.5 million, but the machinery, along with funds for installation, research and development and other costs were covered by the U.S. Army and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent, lauded the leaders of the composites center, saying they were “persistent right to the edge of annoying” in pursuing the goals of the center to develop composite technology while boosting the state’s wood products businesses. Cellulose is a derivative of trees.

Later, Collins, King, Rep. Jared Golden, D-2nd District, and university officials boarded the bobbing craft, which had been placed in the university’s indoor ocean simulator tank.

In christening the boat, Collins said she swung they bottle especially hard because if the christening doesn’t break the bottle on the first try, the boat is believed to be burdened by bad luck and she didn’t want 3Dirigo to have that reputation.

MULTIPLE USES

The university announced in May that it was getting the huge printer, developed in a partnership between the university and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Officials said using the plastic-cellulose blend as the printer’s material has the potential to boost the state’s wood products industry, which has been transitioning away from the historic, glossy paper made in Maine paper mills to other product lines.

Members of Maine’s congressional delegation – Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, at the helm and Rep. Jared Golden, left – join Habib Dagher, director of University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, on the maiden voyage of 3Dirigio in a wave simulation tank at the Orono campus. They are joined by University of Maine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy, right and Valri Lightner, from the Advanced Manufacturing Office at the Department of Energy. The boat was made in 72 hours by the world’s largest 3-D printer, now housed at the center. Ronald Lammers Lisnet

Dagher, the composites center director and a professor of structural engineering, said the university worked with local shipbuilders to develop the boat and potential uses for the technology.

He said the printer can be used to make molds that boatbuilders can use when they make yachts and other watercraft, speeding construction time. It’s already been used to make a roof for a boat, he said.

Having the world’s largest 3-D printer in Maine is “a huge win” for the state, said Steve Von Vogt, executive director of the Maine Composites Alliance.

He said the state is positioning itself as a leader in developing composites and manufacturing, and using material that takes advantage of the state’s wood products industry makes it even more attractive. As manufacturers look for ways to produce items without plastics and other petroleum-based materials, he said, blends that use renewable resources will be more attractive.

“3-D printing is going to be a huge asset for Maine,” Von Vogt said. “We’re really excited about it.”

Dagher said the printer, along with the opportunity to work in the composites center, is attracting students to Maine.

About 160 students a year work in the center, he said. Thirty or so worked on the boat project, he said, with tasks ranging from setting up the printer to overseeing the printing of the boat itself.

“It’s beyond what you would ever get in the classroom,” Dagher said.

The composites center is attracting college students to the state, Dagher said, which, in the long term, could help counteract the aging of the state’s populace. Maine has the highest median age in the country.


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