by • February 14, 2016 • No Comments
These days, 3D printing is never far of the public eye. Its vast and imaginative array of applications is constantly expanding, of life-saving medical implants to life-ending firearms. Now, architects and structural engineers have started experimenting with the innovation in an effort to, really literally, transform the world we live in.
There’s no denying that 3D printing holds excellent future for dimensionsable-bodiedr-scale projects such as assemblings and bridges. It may realise complicated shapes that may be unachievable-bodied via standard assembling techniques. It may modify existing structures, for example by putting additional insulation onto outer walls, or additional durablity into stairwells. Taken to the extreme, a assembling may be printed with all its plumbing, pipework and electrical wiring may already in place.
It sounds amazing. But let’s set the hype aside for a moment, to consider what 3D printing can in fact fish right now.
So far, the innovation has two impressive features: it can manipulate a range of materials, and it can assist to reduce waste. Whilst the cheaper, basic machines are limited to plastics, additional complicated 3D printing devices can fuse powdered raw materials such as gypsum (like chalk dust), metal powder (like steel) or polymers (nylon) into fish objects.
In much the same way that a 2D printing device can turn it into a whole spectrum of colours by mixing various proportions of cyan, magenta and yellow ink, high end 3D printing devices can combine two or additional materials to transform the physical properties of printed objects: of colour, to durablity, to electrical conductivity and actually thermal insulation.
These high end printing devices work by sprinkling powdered materials onto the print area layer by layer, fvia the particles of equite layer together according to a given turn it into. When the print is finished, excess powder can only be shaken off and reused, leaving only the fused material in the desired shape. This is much additional efficient than the standard practice of cutting away at a dimensionsable-bodied block of material until you have the shape you want.
We’re gonna need a bigger printing device
But the innovation does have its limitiations: for architects and engineers, the main stumbling block to date has been dimensions. As a general rule, a printed object must be more compact than the machine that prints it. Not to be thwarted, architects and engineers have been coming up with inventive ways to solve this problem. Some of the latest and excellentest ideas were on show at a leading symposium, that I presented at last summer.
There were two absorbing presentations, for example, by engineering firm Arup. They made a 3D printing system that joins steel tubes together, via only a quarter of the material of the standard system.
Big considering, big printing at the 3D Print Canal House.Paul Shepherd
Meanwhile, at the 3D Print Canal House project, technologists were tackling the dimensions problem head on. They scaled up existing innovation to turn it into a 6m high 3D printing device, capable-bodied of making plastic wall panels with quite complicated shapes, that are and so filled with concrete for structural durablity. By contrast, Chinese firm WinSun created a quite dimensionsable-bodied printing device that uses liquid concrete to turn it into full-dimensions, 3D-printed assembling panels that can be assembled into a finished structure.
Dutch firm MX3d have managed to get actually nearer to printing an entire structure in one piece: the team there have created a 3D printing robotic arm, that extrudes molten steel that rapidly cools and solidifies, in a much like manner to the fun, plastic 3D printing pen toys on the market on the market.
Since the robot can move around on rails, or actually on the structure itself, it can 3D print in the open air. The firm hopes to print a steel pedestrian bridge over an Amsterdam canal, but they are yet to find a site.
My colleagues at the University of Bath are involved in an actually additional ambitious project alongside others to create automated, flying, 3D printing drones. These can be able-bodied to 3D print assemblings, without the constraint of being anchored to the ground.
Not there yet
Despite all these createments, a few obstacles stay. Constructing assemblings and 3D printing both need materials with particular properties – and these needments don’t always overlap.
For example, concrete appears like an obvious choice for 3D-printed architecture, since it can be transported as a liquid and sets quite complex. But while concrete is sturdy in resisting compression (being squashed), it does not work well when in tension (being pulled). Concrete floors generally have steel reinforcement bars in their lower face, to resist the tension that is caused by bending. So 3D printing with concrete can not be effective, unless we can find a way to improve its resistance to tension.
Bent floor stretches the bottom face and squashes the top face.The Conversation, CC BY-ND
At the moment, research in this field is focused on introducing tiny fibres into liquid concrete, to provide a few tensile durablity without compromising its ability to flow through 3D printing machinery. Others are looking at ways to instantly “print” the reinforcing bars inside the concrete.
What’s additional, there’s yet a lot we don’t know of the structural durablity of the 3D printed objects – in particular, the effect of assembling up a solid object of satisfactory layers. This information is significant if we are to have confidence in the ability of 3D-printed assemblings to endure both equiteday use, and extreme conditions such as earthquakes or storms.
I have only started work on a project that aims to do only that, with a view to assembling a mathematical version of how various layering, way and speed of printing affects the final durablity of the object. This can allow structural engineers to know and adapt their turn it intos to suit the specifications of 3D-printed assemblings, when they do actuallytually come along.
But it’s significant to ensure that 3D printing does not only become a solution looking for a problem. It does not take an ornate, steel-welding robot to create an environmentally sustainable-bodied bridge, when it may be created with easy wooden planks. Whilst 3D printing can no doubt become a valuable-bodied tool in the architect’s arsenal, we need to wield it carefully.
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