Today is National Manufacturing Day, a day meant to celebrate the vibrant and modern tradition of manufacturing in America. 3D printing is commonly declared one of the fastest growing segments in the industry and there are incredible advances in the technology occurring every day. One of the most exciting new technologies comes from Branch Technology, based in Chattanooga Tennessee.
Branch has created a unique process for rapidly manufacturing large scale objects. Using their own process called Cellular Fabrication, Branch creates sparse wireframe structures utilizing a multi-axis robotic arm that can reach over 10 feet. The oversized printer extrudes a unique and heavy duty plastic material into a series of 3D, triangular matrixes. As the arm prints up they turn into a scaffold of walls which can replicate complex shapes. The walls are then filled with a variety of foams and concrete to create a solid and durable structure.
Two elements of this new technique are extremely exciting and I think will prove to be highly successful about Branch Technology. First, the use of biomimicry will solve all sorts of problems we find in traditional architecture and design. Most naturally occurring structures are created with smaller modular repeating structures that are resilient to stress, easy to repair and efficient to build. This is true of plants and animals, including our own bones and skin. As a process 3D printing is much closer to how a plant grows than making a building out of brick and wooden beams. This could reduce the cost of building in remote areas or help create homes faster that are resistant to natural disasters like hurricanes and eathquakes. This is not to mention the aesthetic benefits of designing cool, large-scale structures with 3D modeling tools.
The second successful element of this technique is that it only utilizes 3D printing for the parts that 3D printing is best at. The most basic elements which define the forms are printed so that is can be supplemented with secondary materials which make the forms as strong and permanent as needed. The whole structure doesn’t need to be printed in its entirety because that wouldn’t be cost effective or provide the best quality. The smart approach to using 3D printing is how Shapeways treats manufacturing as well. We use 3D printing to take create designs which couldn’t exist otherwise, but supplement this with techniques like casting in porcelain or metals to provide higher quality end results.
Both Branch Technology and Shapeways are innovating by using 3D printing to manufacture designs which were never possible before. To learn more, you can check out our Shapeways live Discussion series.