While plastic, followed by metal, have been the materials of choice for commercial printing systems, the basic concepts behind 3D printing are simple enough that a host of mad scientists (and engineers) have applied it many other materials.
In 3D printing “wood”, the material used is not wood in the traditional sense. It is a mixture of plastic and 30-50% recycled wood chips or power. Unlike traditional wood, the polymer mix adds a bit of flexibility, although the material is also relatively weak and fragile compared with other 3D printed materials. Some of its unique material properties are sound insulation, vibration dampening and it biodegradability. The raw material is cast into filament for FDM/FFM printing, or powder for sintering or bonder jetting machines. These materials produce a homogenous, brown part. A recent project at Columbia University included 3D printing a block with a visible grain structure that varies throughout the block, just like real wood.
3D Printed Concrete has made its appearance internationally via a number of model homes and art pieces. The raw material is a custom combination of concrete with polymer filler, glass filler, recycled materials or sand. When fully cured, its properties are similar to concrete used in traditional architectural work, making it waterproof and highly durable. Most large-scale 3D printing processes use a prefabrication approach, where large pieces are 3D printed and brought to site to be assembled. The Chinese company WinSun, based in the Suzhou Industrial Park, is the world leader in 3D printed building construction.
Clay can be any of a wide range of formulations common to the ceramics industry. It can be glazed in a variety of finishes, just like clay processed with other methods. The material is heat resistant (up to 600°C), recyclable, and currently the only long-term food safe 3D printing material. Emerging Objects, based in San Francisco, CA, has a whole portfolio of amazing works of clay and concrete art.
MIT’s Mediated Matter Group developed a 3D printer that extrudes molten, optically clear glass in 2017. The machine prints soda lime glass, a reduced melt temperature family of glasses used in everything from water glasses to windows. The object being printed had to be maintained at a very high temperature to prevent it from shattering as parts of it cooled.
One of the truly “office friendly” methods of 3D printing uses regular office paper. The sheets are printed, laminated and cut out to produce vivid 3-dimensional structures. These can be coated for water resistance and increased durability, but then recycled in the standard paper bin when done. Check out the amazing full color product mock-ups that come straight off Mcor’s machine.
If you can melt it, squeeze it, or glue it together, someone, somewhere has tried to print it. When it comes to food, this includes sugar, chocolate, gelatin, pancake batter, ice cream, hamburger, cookie dough, frosting, pizza, paté and so on. Check out 3D Systems Culinary 3D Printing projects for some truly amazing uses of sugar. Google “3D Printed Food” to see just about everything else.