One man’s waste is another man’s treasure, and the old adage couldn’t be truer of the waste industry. From food to packaging to the construction industry, trash is everywhere, but sometimes it can be turned into something more.
Take sawdust, something most companies consider waste. Not Forust. In May, the startup launched a technology that uses recycled sawdust and other byproducts from the wood industry to make 3D printed objects that look like traditional wood. Winner in the Materials category of Fast business 2021 Innovation by Design Awards, Forust can create virtually any item, from housewares to intricate architectural details. It can also replicate any type of wood, from ash to mahogany, making it a viable and long-lasting replacement for traditional wood.
“There is so much wood in architecture,” says Virginia San Fratello, chair of the design department at San Jose State University and co-founder of Forust. “How could we create a 3D printed wood product from this material that would otherwise go to landfill? Although sawdust is biodegradable, when it breaks down in large quantities in landfills, it releases high concentrations of lignin and fatty acids, which then contaminate water supplies.
Forust is a subsidiary of Desktop Metal, a company that has 3D printed metal since 2015. The process looks like this: Thin layers of sawdust are smeared on the bed of Desktop Metal’s 3D printers, which have been modified to print with wooden products. . San Fratello says the parts that come out of the printer are delicate, so they are treated with a non-toxic binder like lignin (a natural polymer found in the cell walls of woody plants) to make the material more durable. For an object the size of a small vase, the process takes about two hours and ends with traditional wood treatments such as sanding, staining or staining.
As a proof of concept, Forust collaborated with Yves Béhar’s Fuseproject, who designed a collection of household items including a pear-shaped container, bowl, basket and tray, all using Forust technology. “We have developed an algorithm that will apply a pattern to each layer as it is 3D printed,” says San Fratello, “we are building a faux wood grain that looks natural. “
The team had early experiments with color, but the biggest challenge remains the scale. Due to the limited size of the print bed, objects over 8 inches or so need to be made in multiple parts, but San Fratello says they are finalizing the work on a robotic arm that will facilitate larger objects.
Soon, the possibilities will be endless, from door handles and trim for high-end vehicles, to furniture. Right now anyone can download a 3D model and Forust will print it, as long as the final product is less than 8 inches. But the startup is also developing in-house products, including wall tiles that can hold plants, furniture, and even 3D-printed lighting in collaboration with a London designer. “Anywhere you see wood, we could use 3D printed sawdust,” says San Fratello.
The team is even working on 3D printed wood that is strong enough to be used in buildings. In the not-so-distant future, we might see 3D printed structural columns with ornate and intricate details that can only be hand sculpted otherwise. “I could 3D print something that could take someone else hundreds of hours to sculpt,” says San Fratello.
It may seem like a threat to crafts and handmade artifacts, but San Fratello insists the two can coexist. “I don’t think 3D printers and robots are going to take over,” she says. Like a hammer or table saw, the 3D printer will be just “another tool in the toolkit”.
See more Fast business’s 2021 Innovation by Design Awards. Our new book, Rapid business innovation by design: creative ideas that transform the way we live and work (Abrams, 2021), is on sale now.