Research Progress
Autodesk and the pursuit of bio-inspired 3D printing
Post: 2016-01-17 06:28  View:1465

Autodesk changed design in the manufacturing and building industries decades ago by introducing AutoCAD desktop design software.


Now, as 3D printing emerges as a new way to prototype and even manufacture things, the software maker is angling to play a pivotal role in many ways, as hinted at by its introduction of Spark, an open-source software platform for 3D printing.


One role Autodesk is engaged in, along with several other institutions, is trying to steer the nascent 3D -printing industry towards more environmentally friendly and sustainable ways than the traditional manufacturing it may replace. Already, 3D printing — or additive manufacturing as it is called at a larger scale — is characterized as a more sustainable way of producing objects.


According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 3D printing uses less energy than factory manufacturing, and creates less waste by printing and depositing exactly the shape of something needed, rather than shaving off or molding a shape from a block of an ingredient, which often leaves unused byproduct.


3D printing also could reduce transport and packaging of goods because objects can be printed near where they are needed. But there’s still the question of the core ingredients of 3D printing — the material upon which a design is printed and which is then layered to make objects.


In most industrial 3D printing applications today, what’s used are stereolithography (SLA) resins, or petroleum-based synthetic resins which become solids after light and extreme heat are applied. The SLA resins themselves, as liquids, are hazardous, fossil-fuel-based materials.They are toxic to marine life so can not be disposed of in drains.


Could there be a better, more sustainable material? That is the question Autodesk is asking along with the Biomimicry Institute and the Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry at the University of California at Berkeley. The three organizations have joined together in this quest. “One thing people don’t realize is that, in the material world, there’s a limited set of materials available for this purpose,” said Dawn Danby, senior sustainable design program manager at Autodesk, explaining the endeavor. “There’s a lot of discussion about 3D printing — that it could be more energy efficient, cut down on waste, etc.


We hope to move the sector in that direction. But there’s a limited number of polymers.” Shalom Ormsby, 3D-printing user experience manager at Autodesk, said that in this partnership, the company is trying to expand the understanding of the number of possibilities for stereolithography resins. “We are looking for more bio-friendly materials.


Can it be sourced with components that are derived from more natural substances? Can we look at biomimicry and how nature prints? After all, nature has been printing for billions of years. ... It is more than picking up inspiration from nature; it is looking at polymers that nature uses to make things.”


In examining how nature has constructed certain materials, and the performance of those materials in handling stresses and loads, there just may be clues. But the resin that is the core ingredient of today's 3D printing continues to be the stumbling block toward sustainability.


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