Whether we have tried our own hand at 3D printing or not, we’ve all been exposed to it – mostly through architectural models. However, I would like to ask if this technology could help us more than just represent a building, but actually be a part of the building? In what way could this be done? Where do we even start!?
To begin, we have to open up to the fact that 3D printing can produce much larger objects than just 1/16” models. This means that the machine itself needs to change. Maybe this sounds like a whole ordeal of some ‘mad scientist’ invention (such as the BigDeltaWASP), but you could actually build your own from a set of prefab parts: a robot arm, a track, and an ‘extrusion head’. With these, companies and universities have already started playing with large scale 3D printing.
For example, the company Apis Cor has just successfully created a 400 square foot home, built by a robot arm that printed concrete. Now, while this project still had some restriction of size (the arm could only reach out so far) other projects are finding new ways go around this by using a track. Some even incorporating the track into their design.
One company that did just so is MX3D. The Dutch company showcased their 3D printing innovations on a planned Amsterdam bridge. Here, two 6-axis robot arms with an end-effector for welding run along a track designed into the bridge.
For these cases, the term “end-effector” relates to what we would call the extrusion head for 3D printing. This is the device connected at the end of the arm that can be changed out for a variety of tasks such as welding, 3D extrusion, or manipulating (which is basically a robotic hand). This ‘hand’ comes into play for some machines such as SAM (Semi-Automated Mason), which builds up brick walls.
All three of these large scale 3D printers have shown that they could be a cheaper and faster solution than other construction methods by using automated technologies that are already used in other industries.
Now, if that doesn’t interest you, then maybe the materiality aspect will. It’s not just plastics anymore, we have the choice of metals, ceramics, paper, and even printed plantings. But how could they be useful for us? Think of those special details that help give life to a building, but usually cost a pretty penny to fabricate. Well, if you already have the design for it, then you already have what you need to get it printed. You want that super cool light fixture? Then just pick your metal and by golly it’ll grow right in front of your eyes!
Whether it be for construction of structures or fabrication of parts, 3D printing has come much further than just model making. These new inventions could help push architecture into new directions that were once restricted due to cost and time.