3D Printing Moves Beyond the Prototype

Once limited to making one-off prototypes, 3D printers are advancing rapidly. Already they are used to make durable airplane parts and may be used to revolutionize architecture.

What's the Latest Development?

3D printing began as a handy tool inventors could use to make inexpensive prototypes but the technology has already advanced into the realm of real manufacturing. Products like durable airplane parts, which rarely need replacing, are difficult customers for the traditional manufacturing process, whose efficiency relies on the need for mass production. Neri Oxman, an MIT Professor and established artist, says the next phase of 3D technology will allow for the printing of new building materials to revolutionize architecture.

What's the Big Idea?

Oxman's MIT laboratory is designing the next generation of 3D printing technology which could print large concrete structure for new buildings. "The new robotic system is being designed to be able to vary the density of the concrete, making it possible to use dense, strong concrete where it's needed for support, and lightweight, porous concrete for non-load bearing walls, to save on materials costs." The concrete could be made so porous that sunlight could pass through it, reducing the need for indoor lighting.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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