Over the last few years the use of 3D printing has seen unprecedented growth, from fashion and design, through medical and architectural applications, to large-scale automotive prototyping. Regionally, Dubai’s 3D Printing Strategy, which promises 25 per cent of buildings in Dubai will be based on 3D printing technology by 2030, has put the technology in focus. Dubai-based master planner, architect and interior designer Agata Kurzela supports the use of digital fabrication methods and of the possibilities 3D printing affords the future.
“What we commonly know as 3D printing is in fact several different technologies that use not only different materials but also fundamentally different modes of fusing them together,” she says. These technologies are also frequently bundled together under another term — Additive Manufacturing (AM) — as layer by layer, in a digitally controlled process, the base material is converted into a three-dimensional object. “One of the greatest benefits of 3D printing is the ability to generate forms that are otherwise too complex or too labour-intensive using standard manufacturing methods or available skill sets. When the production run cannot justify the cost of fabrication of a mould, or a high degree of product customisation renders traditional methods unfeasible, additive manufacturing can be a solution.”
From creative industries, such as architecture and product design, where the digital models are generated from scratch using computer-aided design software, to industries that rely on accurate representation of existing objects for research — like medicine — the application of 3D printing is diverse.
“We expect to see the exponential development of the technology, as well as its growing ubiquity” says Kurzela, citing a recent announcement by Mercedes-Benz. By the end of September, the auto manufacturer will offer 3D printed thermoplastic replacement parts for several of their truck types in an effort to minimize storage and reduce logistics costs.
Naturally, with all the benefits of the 3D-printing, there are still many obstacles for the industry to overcome. “Limited range of materials available; precision, size and shape limitations, quality control [and] certification of the 3D printed parts for the use in the commercial environment are just some of them,” says Kurzela. Not to mention the still relatively high cost. “These deterrents are not unique to the 3D printing industry — almost every new idea has faced the same difficult beginnings. It is important to see these factors as opportunities to better the technology and its support industries.”
Here’s a look at the ways 3D printing is already being used to improve people’s lives.
While Dubai is considering the possibility of printing entire buildings, the technology has been already used in the UAE to save lives. In preparation for a very complex congenital cardiac surgery on a newborn baby, doctors at Shaikh Khalifa Medical City, which is managed by Cleveland Clinic in Abu Dhabi, decided to aid the diagnostic process with 3D printing. The heart of the infant was scanned using computer tomography and the data was subsequently transferred to Belgium, where a team of specialists at Materialise, a consultancy specialised in 3D printing, converted the medical data into a printable digital model. Two prototypes were made and shipped back to the UAE. The lifesize solid model provided further detail of the anatomy of the heart while another, 2x enlarged transparent model made of flexible material, was used by the doctors for planning and surgery simulation. The preparation helped in minimising the risk and maximising the odds for a successful outcome.
“Launched earlier this year at Clerkenwell Design Week, the Go Wheelchair is an excellent example of mass customisation and personalization using 3D printing,” Kurzela explains. Benjamin Hubert, founder of the London-based design studio Layer, researched the issues users face with the traditional, mass-produced wheelchairs, coming away with a deep desire to create a new-generation prototype that could be personalised for every user. “Hubert took great care to ensure that the design of the seat, foot bay and the backrest take their shape from a biometric 3D scan of the end-user’s body and are precisely suited to fit the type of disability, weight and body shape.” Through a dedicated app the user can further specify the desired configurations such as colours and patterns prior to production.
IN DESIGN & MATERIALITY
Scheduled to be completed in 2017, a pedestrian bridge that will be located on the Oudezijds Achterburgwal canal in Amsterdam will be constructed by multi-axis robots programmed to build their own support as they continue their progress across the bridge. Through precisely placed molten steel, these robots will build the struts and structure for the bridge, eight metres long and four metres wide. It is the brainchild of Dutch designer Joris Laarman and his new company dedicated to all things 3D printing, MX3D. MX3D’s path-breaking technology can also be used to print with other metals such as copper or aluminium. “The bridge could be a fine example of how 3D printing can facilitate the production of strong, vast structures, and demonstrates that we could soon overcome size limitations in production,” says Kurzela. “This project is vital for the digital fabrication industry as it really pushes 3D printing to another level.”
Where better to explore materials, their combinations and possibilities of incorporation in our lives than through the clothes we (could) wear? The most prolific figure when it comes to 3D printing in fashion is without doubt Dutch designer Iris van Herpen. “What van Herpen manages amazingly well is a seamless transition between the application of traditional craftsmanship and advanced technologies for both form generation as well as digital fabrication,” says Kurzela. With breathtaking results, she frequently collaborates with artists, designers and architects.
“Voltage, an haute couture collection developed with Neri Oxman, a professor at MIT Media Lab, introduced multi-material 3D-printing using a combination of both hard and soft elements that are fused together in a way that allows specific garment movement and texture.”
For the same collection Julia Koerner used the Selective Laser Sintering technique that allowed the creation of an intricate lace-like and seamless form which perfectly fitted the model’s body.
For another collaboration between Koerner and van Herpen, the Hybrid Holism collection, the form of the dresses was generated using parametric design, and subsequently printed using Mammoth Stereolithography, a 3D printing technology used for rapid prototyping of large-scale models such as automotive prototypes, developed by Materialised. “Naturally available materials and hands have been the traditional tools for garments. 3D printing offers possibilities of material \manipulation that can present a new vocabulary of silhouettes.”
While there is a growing number of architectural applications being developed — often looking at new materials and typologies — 3D printing offers unique insight into nature, naturally available materials and naturally occurring forms.
“I had the opportunity to participate in Desert Ecologies workshop organized by the Architectural Association of London in 2013,” recalls Kurzela. The workshop took place in Jordan and was focused on rethinking the approach to architectural interventions within the local desert. “Our initial studies of rock formations in Wadi Rum and Petra were a trigger for digital explorations in form finding of shelters intended to be seamlessly nested within the local environment through familiarity of forms and material.”
In parallel, the workshop participants conducted several tests with ‘D-shape’, a binding agent for sand as specifically developed to solidify loose material into solid rock forms. The shelters, whose forms were digitally generated through the simulation of material behaviour and erosion patterns, were then prototyped as scaled models in a fully manual and therefore labour-intensive 3D-printing process.