Will 3D Printers be The End of Landfill?

I’d been hearing about 3D printers for a while but had never taken the time to explore the applications. Now I have, and I’m amazed. It’s a bit like the early days of the internet when it was first opened up to the world – we had absolutely no idea of how diverse the ‘net would become. I think the same will happen with 3D printers.

A 3D printer in essence uses a physical material to print with – a ‘gunk’ of something that is glued together as it’s applied. So rather than print 2D on paper, a 3D printer can apply [or spray] layers of material to form an object [like lamination], or even physical extrusions of the medium [check out this video to get an idea of what goes on]. This means we can send via the internet, printing instructions for a 3 dimensional object. For example, many architects are now using 3D printers to print a full scale representation of a detail. Combined with the rise of BIM I guess this is the end of ‘model making’ huh?

3D printers have already entered the realm of printing machine parts, buildings, even human body parts and robots [now that’s freaky – robots printing robots…]. What has equally grabbed my attention though is this snippet out of New York Design week – some chairs that were 3D-printed using pulverised refrigerators and e-waste.

Dirk-VanderKooij-Chubby5

3D printed chairs by Dirk Vander Kooij during New York Design Week

I couldn’t help but think about where this one could trend…

So imagine this; a 3D printer that is robotic [the tech is already there] and mobile [robots have been designed for many mobile functions, including ‘worms’ that can find victims in collapsed buildings], can obtain whatever materials it needs for its recipe, and can print out some products at the end. They could even be distributed systems, literally, where a swarm of smaller scavenger ‘bots are tasked with mining the required material and bringing it back to the printer. [an end to ‘Clean up Australia Day’?]

We may well have robotic 3D printers that are semi [or fully?] autonomous, scouting landfills for materials and churning out products made from what we once called ‘waste’. I’d give it only 5-7 years before the technology is proven, but maybe some 15-20 years before it becomes commercially viable [unless carbon legislations or rising oil prices accelerate the return].

It’s the introduction of the new manufacturing technique that will enable waste to be re-used without high labour costs. We could have modules for building construction being churned out of landfills on order.

I’m not sure if I’d like the idea of my kitchen bench being made out of an old toilet [yes the devil is in the detail] but I’m sure we’ll iron out the glitches fairly quickly.

This would make a great design project for a group of engineering students…

[I made a cursory attempt at looking for some precedents for this to no avail, but if it turns out I’ve just posted an idea that’s already published then the coincidence is all mine]

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