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Innovation

Additive Manufacturing Applications for Architecture

One form of digital fabrication that is becoming more accessible in schools is 3D printing.  You may even have a 3D printer on your holiday wish list for personal use at home.  3D printing is a form of additive manufacturing in which you build an object from the ground up layer by layer through computer controlled equipment.  The computer controlled equipment uses software as an interface to convert your 3D digital model into machine print instructions for the 3D printer. 

Consumer grade 3D printers are fairly limited to the size of object and types of materials they can print with. Most 3D printers use a plastic filament known as PLA or ABS.  However, when you look at all of the materials that go into making buildings today it is much more than plastic; there’s steel, concrete, and wood to name a few.

Architects and designers now have access to larger and more capable additive manufacturing equipment to explore how to translate their virtual 3D BIM models to an actual 3D printed product that can be used in the construction of buildings.  Below are some examples of how additive manufacturing of a variety of materials has been used in construction.

Concrete

You may have seen USC Professor Behrokh Khoshnevis’ Contour Craft example of extruding concrete to create structures at full scale using a gantry type 3D printer similar to consumer level 3D printers configuration.

Plastic

Startup company Branch Technology is going to market with a 3D printed component of an open matrix lattice composed of carbon-fiber-reinforced ABS plastic that will serve as the sub-structure for a modular wall system.

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Credit: Branch Technology

Metal

Designers and engineers from the firm Arup are studying ways to use additive manufacturing to improve structural joints for tension rod systems through 3D printing in metal.

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Credit: David Galjaard

The intersection between design and additive manufacturing is being realized each day.  New opportunities will continue to expand, especially for entrepreneurs who have a vision of what’s possible with these fabrication capabilities to help clients realize their designs.  Read more here.

Explore additive manufacturing in architecture on your own