A Robotic Arm That Is Capable of 3D Printing Wool

Published on November 24, 2023 by Madeleine P.
3d printing wool

What if you could 3D print wool? The range of materials compatible with 3D technologies conitnue to surprise us, with everything from coffee to beer available! Now, in a project led by a Dutch designer, Christien Meindertsma, a tailor-made robotic arm has been made that is capable of depositing wool layer by layer and forming all kinds of objects, without adding water or any other material. Called FLOCKS Wobot, this robot gives a second life to wool that cannot be used in the textile industry because it is too fine and would therefore be thrown away.

The designer’s project is part of contributing to a circular economy. Her website states that 1.5 million kilos of wool (or about 3.3 million lbs) are thrown away every year in the Netherlands. Meanwhile, in the US, in 2022 alone, 11.9 million lbs were, so imagine the ecological consequences if all that ends up in waste. Her solution aims to fix that.

3D-printed wool offers many advantages

What’s more, wool has a number of advantages over other materials such as polystyrene: it’s recyclable and biodegradable, strong and solid, has excellent insulating properties and is permeable to water. It is also fire-resistant (up to 560°C). Wool could therefore be a good material of choice when combined with 3D printing.

The Dutch designer collaborated with TFT to develop this customized robotic arm. It is attached to a cobot, a collaborative robot equipped with sensors to work safely with the operator. This solution would be capable of depositing successive layers of wool, like a 3D printer and its filament. The designer explains that it is compatible with any type of wool, although tests have been more conclusive with raw wool as it is more sustainable. She adds: “It’s a technique you can use with any European wool. The wool doesn’t have to be particularly fine and it doesn’t even need to be processed, just washed.”

But what can wool 3D printing be used for? It could find its place in many fields, notably in the design of acoustic and insulation products, but also in the design and furnishing sector. Given the properties of wool mentioned above, the applications could be very interesting for different sectors. In the meantime, Christien Meindertsma will be exhibiting the Wobot at the Cuypershuis in Roermond in the Netherlands until March 2024, and at the V&A in London until next October. Click HERE to find out more about the designer’s work.

Example of a 3D printed structure made using wool

What do you think of wool 3D printing? Let us know in a comment below or on our LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter pages! Don’t forget to sign up for our free weekly Newsletter here, the latest 3D printing news straight to your inbox! You can also find all our videos on our YouTube channel.

*All Photo Credits: TFT Tools for Technology, Sara Alvarez, Bart Harteloh, Doosan Robotics, Dormac Cobots, Martin Oosthoek, De Wassum, Havivank, Gelderland, Rotterdam Circulair, Lisa Hardon, Creative Industries Fund NL and Stichting DOEN

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