Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Printing the City

New manufacturing technologies are tipped to change the world, yet again. Machine based production is since the 18th century a reality and with it has the industrial revolution changed the way products and the making of are consumed.

This has had far reaching impacts way beyond the pure manufacturing process, it did completely change society. All of a sudden thousands pieces of exactly the same making, shape and condition were possible. The product was no longer unique and manufactured by hand, but rolled of the conveyor belt.

Printed building by Enrico Dini
Image taken from printertesting / A large scale 3d printer in tests to print a simple building by Enrico Dini.

Yet again new technologies are set to change again the way products are conceptualised. The process of raw material that is mined, pre worked, turned into parts of the product and finally assembled could potentially be overthrown by the newly developed product printing possibilities.

This new printing process is a technologies that allows 3d objects to be printed from a 3d computer model. At the moment the process is possible only with certain materials: plastics, resins and metals. There is room for development however. Already the technology is accurate to print at a precision of around a tenth of a millimetre.

So far it is being developed and used mainly for models, especially in the design industry from architecture to car and airplane design, but also in the machine industry for parts. The technology has been developed over the past decade and is now moving from being used for prototyping to being used for actual parts. These include medical implants, jewellery, football boots designed for individual feet, lampshades, racing-car parts, solid-state batteries and customised mobile phones. Some are even making mechanical devices.

Peter Schmitt 3D prints fully assembled clock mechanisms
Image taken from Peter Schmitt / Parts of a printed clock developed at MIT.

The big change is really that the work no longer is based on the assembly of parts, but the hope of engeniers and developers is that whole products can be printed in one go. Peter Schmitt at MIT has printed a working grandfather clock in one go. But further more printers are also able to reprint themselves.

They can reproduce and print the parts for another printer. At CASA this project is running as part of the payItForward printing project. One printer is used to print the parts for a next printer and who ever gets this printer is to print the parts for the next one. This is the idea of the RepRap printers. Of course they can then also be used to print all sorts of other stuff.

In the building construction industry printers have been used for a while to print models of project. Frank Gerry Architects are leading here with other design firms such as Coop Himmelb(l)au. Of course here the the aims are as opulent as in the car or airline industry to print a whole building.

There are efforts that can be seen as first steps with machines actually building. At the ETH robots from the manufacturing industry are programmed to lay bricks. It can be seen as a first step in printing. The instructions come directly out of the computer and the robots lay the bricks accordingly.

Gramazio & Kohler
Image taken from Dezen / Gramazio & Kohler from ETH printed a wall for the 2008 Venice Biennale.

This can be extended by using flying robots to build taller structures. With the raise of UAVs and drones, these either remote controlled or even GPS (it probably needs more accuracy) controlled flying robots the assembly of buildings and larger structures can be another option. Terminators are set to build our cities of the future dropping in the pieces or printing them on the go.

Frac Centre Flight Assembled Architecture
Image taken from Frac Centre / A flying robot with its load of a brick, Flight Assembled Architecture.

The architects Gramazio & Kohler are planning a project with flying robots that will assemble a six metre-high tower at the FRAC Centre in Orléans, France, next month using styrofoam bricks.

The revolution as such is underway. It is being publicised here and there, but it takes time and a lot of development. Its not being implemented for tomorrow. At the moment printing is going through a transformation from a geeky lab version to actual production of elements and the next step will be the implementation at a larger scale.

It furthermore should also trigger the discussion around raw materials and the sustainable use thereof. With a number of the technologies the recycling of material becomes a very direct reality with old plastic bottles directly being used as the printing material. The same could become true for metal. Imagine the new building being printed from the recycling of the on site existing structure. With the technology the rebuilding of the city is transformed into a reprinting for itself from itself.

Via BLDGBLOG and via Dezen and via the Economist.

No comments: