Industrial 3D printer OEM Desktop Metal has launched its subsidiary Forust, a brand focused on 3D printing functional end-use wood parts via binder jetting.
The Forust process works by upscaling waste byproducts from the wood manufacturing and paper industries (sawdust and lignin). By mixing these byproducts with a special bio-epoxy resin composite, the company can create sustainable 3D printing materials compatible with Desktop Metal’s binder jet technology.
With the launch, Desktop Metal is now offering architects, designers, and manufacturers a new route to custom wood part production, whether it be for home decor or luxury architectural applications. Although it may seem like a late April Fools’ joke at first, customers can already visit the Forust store page to order one of the company’s ready-made, 3D printed consumer home goods pieces. The first batch of products is being offered as part of an exclusive collection by Swiss industrial designer Yves Béhar.
William McDonough, a renowned architect and leader in sustainable development, stated, “The Forust technology allows us to take something that was previously wood waste and re-materialize it into exquisitely beautiful and useful things. We are honoring the cellulose and lignin of the trees by rearticulating them into assets for present and future generations. By allowing millions of trees to remain in place in their forests, Forust is launching a highly evolved technology for the circular technosphere.”
Disrupting the art of woodworking
Forust was born with the aim of recycling wood waste into usable end-use products. By using sawdust and lignin as 3D printing feedstock, the company is able to sustainably mass produce isotropic, high-strength wood parts on Desktop Metal’s Shop System. The printing process sees layers of the specially treated feedstock spread across a build chamber, at which point the material is selectively fused using a non-toxic, biodegradable binder.
The technology even lends itself to integrated grain structures, meaning the finished products are indistinguishable from conventional woodworking pieces. Forust’s 3D printed parts support a wide variety of wood grains at launch, including rosewood, ash, zebrano, ebony, and mahogany. The parts also support a range of wood stains such as natural, oak, ash, and walnut.
Andrew Jeffery, CEO of Forust, adds, “Forust offers nearly unlimited design flexibility. From exotic grain structures to grainless wood, we can digitally reproduce wood textures and a myriad of grain types. And, because they are made from a wood and bioresin compound, these parts exhibit the functionality and stiffness in line with conventional wood.”
A testament to the circular economy
Forust is designed to be an end-to-end service, meaning designers and manufacturers can submit their own custom part geometries for 3D printing. This may be for a single prototype, or it may be for a long-term, high-volume project – the Shop System enables it all. Once a build is done, customers can also opt to recycle their parts and reuse the material for the next project.
“We want to make it easy for designers to explore complex new geometries for a wide variety of products and applications using an age-old material,” explains Jeffery. “At the end of the wood product’s life, customers will have two choices – dispose of it and it will biodegrade over time as any wood product would, or shred it and repurpose the material into future parts through Forust. Our vision is a true circular manufacturing process.”
Although Desktop Metal may be the first to commercialize the technology at scale, wood 3D printing has certainly cropped up in the academic sphere before. Earlier this year, scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) developed special lab-grown wood cells that could form the basis of a new, more sustainable 3D printable biomaterial. While the research is still in its infancy, the team believes that it could eventually be deployed as a means of 3D printing eco-friendly furniture.
Elsewhere, at the University of Freiburg (UCF), researchers have previously developed their own environmentally-friendly wood-based 3D printing material. Specifically, the team combined lignin with cellulose balls to create a novel biosynthetic polymer.
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Featured image shows wood products 3D printed by Forust. Photo via Forust.