In April of last year, we reported on the rapid growth of 3D design technology in product development and online consumer 3D print services, as well as the growing adoption of 3D software in architecture, interior design and manufacturing, resulting in a strong demand for 3D printers to produce these prototypes. As of lately, we have had announcements from an Italian inventor, Enrico Dini, chairman of the company Monolite UK Ltd., who has developed a huge three-dimensional printer called D-Shape that can print entire buildings out of sand and an inorganic binder.
This D-Shape three-dimensional printing apparatus has hundreds of nozzles on its underside, which spray the inorganic binding glue that turns the sand into solid stone and builds up objects in layers from the bottom up. This D-Shape printer can generate a building about four times as fast as the traditional construction method at about half the cost. Less waste left behind also makes the 3D printing process environmentally friendlier than conventional alternatives. The D-Shape printer can easily “print” curved structures that are difficult and expensive to build by other means. Dini is proving the technology by creating a nine-cubic-metre pavilion for a roundabout in the town of Pontedera.
The printer can be moved along horizontal beams and four vertical columns, and the printer head is raised by only 5-10 mm for each new layer. The printer is driven by a computer running CAD software and prints at a resolution of 25 dots per inch (dpi). The completed material resembles marble, is stronger than concrete and does not need iron reinforcing. The printing process can successfully create internal curves, partitions, ducting and hollow columns.
Interestingly enough, D-Shape’s next challenge might be building moon bases. Its inventor is currently in talks with the European Space Agency about creating a version of the device that could use lunar dust to build structures on the surface of our nearest celestial neighbour. Dini says his ultimate dream is to complete Guidi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, which has been under construction since 1882 and which is not expected to be completed until 2026 at the earliest.
Also in the news recently was a 3D printer that created a functional flute. While 3D prototyping technologies are not new, the development in both materials and accuracy is allowing for impressive and functional products to be produced. MIT’s Media Lab has created a fully functional flute composed almost completely of printed components. Using an Objet Connex500 3D printer, a flute was crafted in three parts in 15 hours. The printer is the first device to be able to jet multiple materials, which make up the flute. Only the springs required for the keys were added later on. The flute is made out of three materials: one for the body of the instrument, another for the mouthpiece and a third for the seals in the keys.
3D Prototype printing is being used by a variety of industries for a number of different applications. These industries utilize 3D printers to produce architectural models, automotive prototypes, casings for medical and electronic devices, camera cases, initial parts for first-run productions, parts for robots and prototype inventions of all sorts. On top of these commercial applications, new online companies, such as Shapeways.com are bringing customized manufacturing to the masses by allowing consumers to submit digital designs of products that are then printed with 3D product prices typically selling for between $50 and $150. Another 3D printing company called Figureprints.com can recreate your favourite World of Warcraft character as a fully detailed 3D replica rivaling the beauty of any miniature figure ever made for $100 and up. Some sculptors use the technology to produce complex shapes for fine arts exhibitions. Opportunities are everywhere!
Advantages of 3D Printers
In recent years, 3D printers have become financially accessible to small- and medium-sized business, thereby taking prototyping out of the heavy industry and into the office environment. Today’s smaller 3D printers can now easily be used in an office environment. These smaller office-sized 3D printers can make parts with a build size of 8″x10″x8″ up to 10″x15″x8″ and are easy to use and cheaper to maintain (compared to the older Rapid Prototyping (RP) machines). Both of these printers are used to verify a design, create a prototype, or make a one-off part or proof of concept, but now 3D printers make it a lot more affordable.
If you are looking to expand your revenue stream into a dynamic new market, then 3D printing might be worth a look for you. Add a 3D scanner and you will be able to reproduce real objects in just a few minutes. The real fun of 3D printing will come alive when ordinary consumers at home feel free to let their creativity run wild, and when 3D software programs will become more readily available to the general public. If you can imagine it, you can build it!