A few months ago, I had an opportunity to take the one hour drive from my home in Cape Coral, Florida, down I-75 to Naples, where I met a man named Andy Tran. Tran, who is the founder of Southwest FL 3D, peaked my interest with some of his 3D printing related posts on social media sites such as Instagram. Upon meeting Tran, I got a feel for his extraordinary passion when it comes to 3D printing, and left Naples knowing that it wouldn’t be the last I heard from him.
Tran’s innovative mind has led him to come up with quite the brilliant idea for a large format 3D printer. While other companies and individuals have been spending thousands upon thousands of dollars to create large gantry based 3D printers, Tran has come up with a unique idea. Instead of spending the time, money and energy on creating a sturdy frame for a large format 3D printer, he instead plans to use large shipping containers as the machines’ frame and body.
“The Mille 3D printer has been in concept since I started 3D printing,” Tran tells 3DPrint.com. “I always had an interest in reusing shipping containers, and the idea came when I merged the two. It would offer a new use for these containers, and offer a standard platform for different machines. The Mille 3D printer offers a large format platform that is unprecedented in the industry. You can stack machines, ship them across the country, and park them in your driveway or garage. Ship them empty, and at the end of a road trip open the doors to a new object.”
The idea is a marvelous one; one which could dramatically increase the mobility of 3D printing, while also greatly reducing the production costs associated with the machines themselves. There has been a lot made about the feasibility of large 3D printers. The idea is a good one, but when reality kicks in, very few people have a place to store and/or operate machines of such large scale. The potential of turning these shipping containers into printers themselves, could kill several birds with one stone. Conceivably a container could be stored in one’s backyard, garage, or driveway. They could be stacked, decorated, and customized however a user would like.
“Shipping containers offer a super rigid frame,” Tran tells us. “When you start building a large machine, one of the largest costs is the frame. The Mille solves this with its design and uses a watertight weather proof shipping container hull. 3D printer hardware bolts directly to the steel walls. Shipping containers offer standard interior and exterior sizes so virtually any container can be retrofitted.”
This includes containers of lengths 20, 40, and 52 feet, and Tran tells us that there is plenty of room for expansion modules such as onboard batteries like the Tesla Power Wall, a solar charging system, material shredding and extrusion, a conveyor belt style print bed, 3D scanners, and even finishing modules. The containers could become entirely mobile, automated 3D printing workstations.
“One extension module includes an onboard material handling module that shreds plastic to be extruded as filament,” Tran explains. “The filament can be mixed with other materials for various properties. With the advancement of new material technologies and hybrid filaments the Mille 3D printer will make large objects bigger and better. “
Tran has not yet decided which direction he will take this concept. He plans to either open-source the design on the 3DPB.com forum, or make it commercially available for makers to build their own with DIY kits. Regardless, the idea seems like it could be quite revolutionary for the 3D printing space, perhaps allowing for more individuals and companies to own and operate affordable large format 3D printers.
“I would love to be coined as the father of the ‘Shipping container 3D printer’,” Tran tells us. “That would be so cool! Helping normal people retrofit shipping containers to large 3D printers, extending material technology and handling ability. The Mille offers a great platform for making other large machines as well.”
The Mille 3D printer would be cable of printing out large objects such as vehicles, an idea that Tran himself plans to move forward with in the near future, with an idea for a vehicle he calls the AeroCycle. More on this coming in a future article. Stay tuned!
“With multiple printers at your command you posses power to print a small fleet of vehicles,” says Tran.
What do you think about the Mille 3D printer? Is this a feasible idea that could revolutionize large scale 3D printing? Discuss in the Mille 3D Printer forum thread on 3DPB.com.