The ASCC researchers are collaborating with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Maine State Housing Authority to design and 3D print a prototype house using sustainable composite materials. These include wood materials, such as sawdust, to create wood flour that is combined with biopolymers to create pellets for 3D printing.

The project falls under the umbrella of the ASCC’s 2020 strategic plan, named Green Energy and Materials (GEM).

“Our goal is to bring green energy and materials to society,” says Dagher. “From an environmental perspective, using bio-based materials – whether from trees or other sources – is an important part of the global fight against climate change.”

As part of this mission, the center first printed a tri-hull boat nearly three years ago. The 25-foot-long, 5,000-pound boat was printed in just three days.

“We validated the feasibility of manufacturing a large structure in one go,” says Dagher. Since then, the ASCC has 3D-printed numerous structures.

The center finished printing the prototype house in October and has placed it outside the lab to go through “the good, old Maine winter,” says Dagher. The weatherproof house, which is heated and fully operational, incorporates sensors to gauge energy efficiency, structural performance, dimensional stability and air quality.

“The house itself is a milestone, of course, but we are focused on advancing material and manufacturing technologies that enable us to build the house,” says Dagher.

To achieve those goals, the ASCC is collecting data every time it uses the printer, including bead properties, the height and elevation of the printhead, machine temperatures, environmental conditions and more. In addition, the team scans each part it prints and collects data, such as part temperature over time.

“All of the data goes into a data bank with a high-performance computing platform,” says Dagher. “We can query the data bank to better understand the relationship between process parameters and the quality of the part we get at the end.” In the next few years, the team plans to add artificial intelligence to the printers.

“You will have smart printers that learn as they go, which is really important for very large prints,” says Dagher. “When you 3D print something on your desktop and make a mistake, you can just print another one. But when you have something 30 x 20 feet and weighing 40,000 pounds, you can’t really do that.”

Everything that the ASCC team is learning will help them build the GEM Factory of the Future, where the production process will scale up to manufacture boats, homes and other structures in larger volumes. Dagher anticipates the Factory of the Future being operational in 2025. He hopes it will have a sweeping impact across industries – including the housing market.