One of the funniest and most spirited 3D printing lectures I’ve ever attended was Enrico Dini’s passionate narrative at Inside 3D Printing NY last year sharing trials and tribulations he has undergone since becoming obsessed with somewhat quixotic notion of providing 3D printers for the production of actual dwellings. Inevitably, just at the moment things are looking up on one project, one or more of the investors abandons him leaving him high and dry, building un-printed. And the first completed 3D printed structure (big enough for humans to walk inside but too small to be a dwelling) it was so heavy it began to sink into the ground and had to be transported elsewhere to preserve it.
But while the status of D-Shape is always a bit of a question-mark — probably no other effort to 3D print on the architectural scale has had as much of an influence upon the field and the imagination of the public. Check out the short teaser for the in-progress documentary about him above, and a Discovery Channel segment below.
Enrico Dini is the man behind Monolite UK, a company that hopes to start producing and selling 3D printers under the name D-Shape. However, Dini’s printers aren’t for printing Minecraft creations, Verge logos, or even prosthetic jaws — they’re for printing buildings.
As it stands, if you want to make a complex structure out of something like stone, you need to build with Portland cement — a messy, time consuming, labor intensive and error-prone business. D-Shape’s printers simplify things, using a computer-driven printer to turn a CAD model into a real structure one layer at a time. The new building method makes it easy to reproduce features like domes without any of the complicated forming needed for concrete. As a matter of fact, unlike similar technologies from the likes of Loughborough University in the UK, no cement is necessary at all — D-Shape’s printers use a special inorganic binder and ordinary sand as the only raw materials. The non-epoxy binder is composed of two parts — sand is mixed with a solid catalyst, and the mixture is then exposed to a liquid binding agent. The surplus sand that doesn’t get printed acts to buttress the structure, and can be reused for the next print.
Interestingly, the sand isn’t inert during the reaction like it is when concrete is mixed, and Monolite claims the finished product is a hard, strong, marble-like material — ideal for everything from park benches to one or two floor buildings. So far, the biggest structure Dini has built is the gazebo pictured at the top of the page (the picture above is of a scale model), but with a rigid enough printer structure there’s nothing to stop him from printing something much larger, and his current goal is to create a “yard” printer for use on actual construction sites.