Shapeways, The Community

3D printing buildings: interview with Enrico Dini of D_Shape

Enrico Dini dreamt of buildings, construction and impossible shapes. He was particularly inspired by Gaudi’s architecture and loved his fantastic(in every sense) work. He became a Civil engineer and later branched out into making machines. All the while dreaming of those impossible shapes.

Traditional building methods tend to reel in dreamers outlandish dreams though. Building with concrete and brick require scaffolding and a lot of manpower. This creates constraints. These constraints limit the way in which buildings can be constructed and limit the shapes and forms that architects can use. Rather than accept these constraints as a given Enrico set out to completely remove them. In 2004 he invented and patented a full scale 3D printing method that used epoxy to bind sand. Enrico could now 3D print buildings. 

As Shapeways community members who have experimented with resin molds know, epoxy resin can stick to virtually anything. This lead to high maintenance costs for the machines as well as inefficiencies when they were used. Enrico went back to the drawing board to invent anew. In 2007 he got a new patent for a system using an inorganic binding material and any old sand to 3D print buildings. The new process had low maintenance costs and was easier to use. Now Enrico can 3D print buildings, cost effectively.

He is now working on
further improving the accuracy and will 3D print a full sized
roundabout sculpture in Pisa Italy. The rendering below shows you the
scale, once it has been installed. This is no pie in the sky stuff, it is happening now. The picture at the top of the post is of a quarter scale model of the actual 3D
print of the roundabout.

Affable Enrico told me that his “small team is sitting on a huge opportunity.” I would tend to agree. Their D_shape technology makes it possible to 3D print 6 by 6 by 1m parts. These parts could either be shipped to the construction site or the entire building could be 3D printed on location. The parts made by D_shape resemble ‘sandstone.’ They are comparable in strength to reinforced concrete and the ingredients are the binding material and any type of sand. D_Shape’s materials cost more than regular concrete but much less manpower is needed for construction. No scaffolding needs to be constructed so overall building cost should be lower than traditional building methods.

The system works with a rigging that is suspended over the buildable part(you can see it at the top of the first image). The system deposits the sand and then the inorganic binding ink. No water is necessary. Because the two components meet outside the nozzle, the machine does not clog up and can keep up its accuracy of 25 DPI. Enrico and D_Shape are currently talking to lots of construction & engineering companies and architects about their technology.

The technology would seem to be especially interesting for these
architects. With D-Shape they could make previously impossible forms
and indeed approach a building not as a place where planes intersect
but much more organically. As with regular 3D printing methods a lot of
forms can only be made in this way. I for one would love to work in a Moebius
strip office building.

One thing that I personally found very compelling about the technology
is that it does not use cement. The production of cement creates a lot
of CO2. The D-Shape process has the possibility to be much more
environmentally friendly because the build material does not need to be made by heating limestone and so would create much less carbon dioxide. Since the build material is just sand plus the inorganic binder it could be much better for the planet too.

What is next for D_Shape? One group of people that Enrico is talking to is the group responsible for the still ongoing construction of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Perhaps the engineer that was so inspired by Gaudi could help finish his work using 3D printing.   

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