IIT Guwahati researchers 3D print unique industrial waste-based cement into eco-friendly furniture

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Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati (IIT Guwahati) have come up with a novel way of 3D printing industrial waste into sustainable large-format structures. 

Leveraging an in-house-developed concrete, which uses local waste materials as a binder, and a Deltasys E-Forming construction unit, the team has been able to 3D print a unique piece of ‘urban furniture.’ According to the engineers, such structures usually require a huge amount of material, labor and formwork, but using design optimization allowed them to reduce their concrete consumption by 75%.

The researchers' 3D printed 'urban furniture.'
The researchers’ 3D printed ‘urban furniture.’ Image via IIT Guwahati.

Deltasys E-Forming’s technology 

Founded in 2018 by its now-CEO and CTO Virendra Kadam and Murlidhar Sutar, Deltasys E-Forming is an India-based start-up that specializes in the design and manufacture of large extrusion 3D printers. Since being set up, the company has gone on to establish a strong customer base in the Western Maharashtra and North Karnataka industrial belt, and sold over 250 of its proprietary machines to-date. 

The firm’s offering revolves around its DE 10X and DE200 3D printers. Both FFF machines, the former is designed to enable the production of precise, large-format parts and features a 500mm x 500 x 500mm build volume, while the latter is much smaller, but retains the ability to manufacture highly-accurate objects at layer resolutions of just 90 microns.

At present, Deltasys E-Forming both sells its systems, and offers to produce parts for clients on an on-demand basis, while targeting the rail, aerospace, automotive, naval and medical sectors. However, the firm is also low-key developing a third construction-oriented system. Though little is known about this printer, as it has been under wraps since 2019, it’s said to have a capacity of up to ten cubic meters. 

Deltasys E-Forming's current 3D printing lineup.
Deltasys E-Forming’s current 3D printing lineup. Image via Deltasys E-Forming.

Entering low-carbon construction 

Citing advances in the deployment of 3D printing in the erection of housing, bridges and other infrastructure, the IIT Guwahati team says that the technology has the potential to “initiate a paradigm change in the practice of construction,” and holds particular promise as a way of bypassing the traditional mold casting process. 

Aiming to put these ideas to the test, the researchers have deployed Deltasys E-Forming’s new system, which they’re reported to have been co-developing since 2021, as part of a pilot furniture 3D printing project. 

To enable the structure to be printed without collapsing in on itself during production, the engineers initially designed it to feature an arch-shaped support, using SolidWorks and Simplify3D respectively. The team also developed a cement mixture especially for the project, that is said to use locally-sourced materials as a binder, in a way that makes it more cohesive while reducing its carbon content. 

Once they’d modeled and sliced their furniture design, the researchers went on to 3D print it at a speed of 80 mm/s and layer height of 10 mm, into a 0.4 x 0.4m seating structure. While the manufacturing process itself only took 20 minutes to complete, it’s said that the chair had to be covered in moist gunny bags for seven more days after printing, in order to allow it to be cured before being used. 

Given the material, lead time and labor savings achieved using their novel material, the engineers say that it could yet have a “global impact on versatile construction applications,” and they now plan to investigate its underwater 3D printing potential, but IIT-Guwahati’s Director TG Sitharam is more cautious about its end-use viability.

“We [have] showcased how material-efficient structures can be produced in our lab-scale 3D printer,” said IIT-Guwahati director T.G. Sitharam. “[But] from an Indian context, techno-economic analysis must be carried out that takes into account not only environmental sustainability, but also aspects relating to the cost, quality, labor and maintenance associated with 3D printing.”

3D printed ergonomic street seating with integrated plant pot, installed on the waterfront.  Photo via The New Raw.
Deploying 3D printing to build sustainable street furniture has become somewhat of a trend in recent years. Photo via The New Raw.

3D printing sustainable architecture 

While creating furniture using the IIT Guwahati team’s new carbon-light material is no doubt more eco-friendly than doing so from normal cement, the project is far from the first to come up with a more sustainable approach to construction 3D printing. As long as three years ago, Dutch design studio The New Raw established a zero-waste lab in Greece, where it also 3D printed chairs from recycled plastics. 

In more recent developments, a team at ETH Zurich’s Digital Building Technologies unit has also unveiled a novel foam-printing technology. Made from recycled waste, it’s said that this mineral foam can be deposited into complex formwork, with the ability to cast geometrically-optimized slabs, in a way that reduces users’ concrete consumption by up to 70%. 

Elsewhere, in the field of 3D bioprinting, MIT scientists have developed a furniture 3D printing material with the potential to cut out the need for using wood or cement as feedstock altogether. Leveraging a cultivation technique, akin to that used to grow plant and meat tissues, the team there has managed to artificially produce wood cells which could in future be built into sustainable architecture. 

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Featured image shows the researchers’ 3D printed ‘urban furniture.’ Image via IIT Guwahati.