Australian researchers are working on a new 3D printing project to create a sustainable new microtimber out of Macadamia shells.
Until now, 3D printing technology has been primarily used for small-scale industrial design products, but a research team led by University of Sydney architecture and engineering experts is investigating ways to 3D-print a new gradient timber panel using forestry waste and by-products, including discarded Macadamia shells.
Macadamias have been found to have many useful qualities, currently also being used as a biofuel. It's anticipated that this new project will break new ground in the use of agricultural waste and 3D printing.
The three-year study, partially funded by the Forestry and Wood Products Association, will involve experimenting with different material compositions using timber flours, including but not limited to macadamia shells, to produce a new marketable microtimber prototype.
It's anticipated the new microtimber could be adapted for a wide range of building features such as walls, cladding, internal screens or louvres.
The project is the first stage of a long-term research initiative by the University of Sydney exploring new design principles, material and production processes using new fabrication technologies to deliver sustainable, alternative products for the Australian building industry.
"We want to create innovative, environmentally-resilient panels that are customised to react optimally to structural stress and weather exposure of a building," said Dr Sandra Löschke, director of architecture, design and technology and co-leader of the research team.
"The work lies in the micro-layering and fusing of different 3D-printed timber compositions, to provide a unique material and geometric gradient suitable for large-scale building projects."
The project will advance previous research into 3D printing techniques by co-leader, Professor Andy Dong, Warren Centre Chair for engineering innovation at the University of Sydney.
"Timber is an important primary industry for Australia. Architectural and structural design aspirations are driving innovations in new value-added timber products, including the conversion of so-called waste material into a bespoke product.
"The anticipated outcomes of the research are highly significant for the forestry industry. It could fundamentally change the way Australia produces timber-based products," said Professor Dong.
The University of Sydney is involved in a number of 3D printing projects, including 3D printing skull implants for patients who have suffered damage to the skull either through accidents or strokes.
The University first began printing templates of missing skull pieces in February, successfully trialling them on patients with injuries from the size of a 20 cent piece up to 40 per cent of a patient's skull missing.
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The project is expected to help save on extensive costs and wait lists from usual methods, such as cranioplasty implants, which take weeks to manufacture and cost thousands of dollars. The 3D printed bone segment was found to be ready for application in a few days and costs only $300.