Are Dreams Becoming Reality?

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3D printer

Three-dimensional printers are expanding their repertoire every day. Now researchers around the world are using the technology to manufacture structural steel and metal components. Arup, headquartered in London, recently announced that it has developed a method to 3D print complex structural steel components for construction projects in a manner that reduces material cost and waste. Salomé Galjaard, a senior designer in Arup’s Amsterdam office, notes that the process can achieve the fluid shapes and complex geometries that architects often desire—and more structurally efficient components.

“It could be a great source of inspiration and could result in completely different building types,” says Salomé  “Your imagination is really the limitation with this.”

While Arup and the ESA are printing structural metal products, researchers at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), in Germany, are using 3D laser lithography to print micro-trusses and micro-shell structures from ceramic material, which is then coated by aluminum oxide for increased strength. These micro-scale products are less dense than water, yet stronger on a strength-to-weight ratio than some forms of steel.

“It has been a longstanding effort to create materials with low density but high strength,” the researchers wrote in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

After studying the composition of wood and bone, which generally have high tensile strength because of their porous composition, the team developed honeycomb-shaped microstructures that achieved the research objectives: They were lighter than 1,000 kilogram per cubic meter (62.4 pounds per cubic foot), or the density of water, and could withstand 280 megapascals (40,610 pounds per square inch), making it stronger than some forms of steel.

Although computer simulations had indicated that such materials could be created, the tools to develop them at the “scale of a human hair” only came to being recently, according to an article from The Conversation. But KIT researchers used a new laser system from Nanoscribe, a spin-off company of KIT, to make it a reality. Lead researcher Jens Bauer told The Conversation that “this is the first experimental proof that such materials can exist.” Nanoscribe’s system is currently limited to objects that are tens of micrometers in size. Despite additive manufacturing’s advances and potential for fabricating structural metal products, Arup’s Galjaard doesn’t expect the technology to replace traditional manufacturing soon.

“It’s fantastic and it’s beautiful, but it’s not the solution for everything.”

Citation: Architect – The Magazine of the American Institute of Architects

Ashley G. // Editor SMC

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