Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) may well be home to the largest 3D-printer in Africa. The five-metre tall printer with an ability to print enormous structures across a wide array of transdisciplinary applications is the result of the efforts of a team of student engineers and their lecturers.
“These printers are normally used to print tiny things, such as parts required in the medical field, but we wanted to print wind turbine blades in a quick way,” says Mechanical Engineering’s Prof Russell Phillips.
OUTSIZED … Role players on what is arguably the largest 3D printer in Africa include (back, from left) Mechanical Engineering intern Jan Hendrik de Jongh, Mechanical Engineering’s Prof Russell Phillips and eNtsa’s Andrew Young, and (front) soon-to-be PhD graduate Sean Poole. Absent: designer master’s student Timothy Momsen.
“What is novel about this printer is its ability to print enormous structures.” He says the team hopes to try novel print materials and methods towards printing items with more strength than is normal for printed 3D items.
The project, jointly managed by the Renewable Energy Research Group and eNtsa, an institute that using its engineering expertise to seek solutions, has elicited interest from across the University and industry.
The School of Built Environment has even enquired into the use of a modified version of the printer for building houses using concrete. In China complete concrete houses, which are stable for outdoor use, have successfully been printed by 3D printers, says Prof Phillips.
The printer, which has a base of roughly 1,3m square, uses PLA (polyactic acid), a plastic substance similar to that used by hot glue guns, to print the plugs. These are made into moulds to make parts.
“Our first print, the ‘calibration tube’ is 4,8m long and took roughly 36 hours to print. We are nearly ready to print the first 5m turbine blade.” The concept of rapid prototyping wind turbine blades was first used at NMMU by PhD student Sean Poole, who built a similar, but smaller version of the printer during his studies.
The printer can also be used to print big moulds for metal casting for machinery.
“We are hoping to set up an additive manufacturing centre for NMMU capable of doing the printing required by various disciplines from Art to Architecture,” says Prof Phillips.
The design of this printer and most of its assembly was conducted by recently qualified master’s student Timothy Momsen.
Tel: +27 (0) 41 504 1111
Fax: +27 (0) 41 504 2574 / 2731
PO Box 77000, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
Port Elizabeth, 6031, South Africa
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