by Richard McPartland
Just as primitive computer aided design (CAD) systems have given way to the advanced modelling software that we use today, 3D printing technology has improved exponentially since those initially costly and cumbersome systems we saw on Tomorrow's World in the 1980s.
While most of us understand that the software's moved on, 3D printing has yet to achieve a mainstream tipping point and it's easy to think of primitive resin blocks rather than intricate creations. Given that construction, and building services in particular, have much to gain from the process, it's time to take a fresh look at 3D printing. Enter a new At a Glance guide from BSRIA...
The guide explores what 3D printing is, the design tools required and the printing process itself, before going on to explore the potential applications along with the potential pros and cons. It's aimed at architects, surveyors and designers, manufacturers, system integrators and engineers.
What is 3D printing anyway?
A 3D printer uses a model design created in CAD as its template which is broken down into individual layers by the 3D printer’s software. Material is then deposited, typically via a nozzle device, layer by layer, until the 3D product is complete though some devices use slightly different processes.
What's the potential?
Increases in speed and accuracy and the increased range of materials that can be used mean prototypes can be created more quickly. Improvements in technology, especially CAD have aided this – a manually controlled 3D printer would almost be impossible to use accurately.
3D printing also makes the manufacture of different shapes such as hollow structures possible which previously were not with traditional subtractive methods such as milling.
Chris Thompson, Research Engineer, Sustainable Construction Group at BSRIA, is quick to point out the potential: "The technology has developed significantly in the past 20 years and 3D printing now has a whole host of uses. In the future – the scope of 3D printing is only going to increase – including prosthetics, food, cars and even houses…"
Where can I find a copy of the BSRIA 3D printing At a Glance Guide?
The guide is available to download from the BSRIA website. Free registration is required.