About the best way there is, to challenge wood into a role for 3D printing or manufacturing, is obviously to first identify the problems we face with that possibility. Thereafter come the solutions. The “role that wood could have” in the future of 3D printing automatically becomes “what role would 3D processes have in the future of wood.”
I say this because this superlative natural material spins off so many industries itself, and so many product categories and applications, that it is almost necessary to see what wood can do with the technology, rather than what the technology can do with the material.
Scale is well explained by Mark. Stepping back, very few raw materials (for any kind of manufacturing) are available in the dimensions that wood comes in – as logs of huge sizes – compared to (relatively) tiny rocks of metal ore, or chunks of clay for ceramics. In the case of plastic, it is a matter of re-re-processing that material, so manageable sizes are currently limited for 3d processes, though that should not last for long. For plastic and wood in additive processes, dimensions can theoretically be as large as the machinery can handle. The same applies to depositing layers of concrete paste to build walls or other structural elements. The famous bridge being built in Holland is a good example of large concrete structures governed by large format machines.
This brings us to the key solution – that machine technology will largely determine the scale of product built by 3D processes. In this regard, wood already has a mile-long lead over all other materials. The machinery out there is already positioned to process giant logs and large wooden objects, extra-long construction lumber, and XLAM structural members. Laser-optimization, CNC processes and the like are already built into wood-machines. It becomes a matter of redirecting these abilities selectively (of the machines) into the fundamentals of 3D Manufacturing.
Plywood and MDF are results of additive manufacturing, and super fast production of panel boards has been around for decades. Right now, this is raw material for finished objects and not the object in itself as we expect to see out of a 3d Machine. I only use the example of plywood/MDF to encourage our journey towards 3D Wood objects because we already have an inadvertent presence in 3D processes.
We are, in many ways on the brink of automated 3D wood-object manufacturing.
Well said, and may I add, that not only do we have large scale machinery development, but we also have a long history in making composite products.
-How about an extruded composite of Wood Pulp Fibre and Cement? Currently used for roofing panels and exterior siding.
– How about a mix of wood chips and cement. Like Durisols product line. durisolbuild.com
– How about wood wool and cement? Like Baux acoustic panels. http://www.baux.se/acoustic-wood-wool-panels/
Or Wood with plastic, currently used by Trex in decking. http://www.trex.com
Can we develop an extrudable slurry, of wood and cement, that does not require heat or pressure to cure and bond? Such a product may be light weight, resistant to moisture, fire and insects.