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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  1. T. Shawn Johnson

    I want to do this. When will shapeways have access to this 3D printer ? 😉


    1. Joris

      As soon as we can figure out how to put a house in one of those brown UPS vans.

    2. Strijker

      Well, maybe you can add a “made at home” service in that you bring the printer packed in a truck to someone’s unbuilt lot, press the start button, and when done, relocate to the next customer. Would take three days to print and move to the next customer.

      Would you also charge per cm²? 😀

    3. Joris

      Of course, and as always shipping would be included in our prices.

  2. Shelley Noble

    Terribly exciting. Kudos all around. This could very well be the future of home building. Looking forward to it.

  3. Michal Piasecki

    Very interesting. I’m wondering about the resolution of the print and about the strength of the material.

    1. Joris


      The resolution is 25 DPI at the moment, so this is less than we have for our materials to give you an indication. The material should be as strong as reinforced concrete.

  4. Anonymous

    This is incredible. As an architectural student and long-time devotee of Gaudi, I find this to be one of the single biggest things to happen in the last couple of years. Crap, now I’m going to have “blank-canvas syndrome” whilst I try to think of the illimitable ways in which this could be used….Cheers!

    1. Brenda

      Wow, it\’s always great to see civil engineers with artistic capabilities. This creativity should be brought to San Francisco and Oakland!

  5. Eric

    It would be impossible for this to be as strong as reinforced concrete. Main reason? It is not reinforced.

    Also, every 3d print I have ever held in my hands is as easily pulverized as being sneezed upon. Sediment is not strong.

    I do look forward to seeing further development of something useful with these technologies down the road. A non-directional fiber could act as reinforcement. Architects are playing with this idea. Of course, the idea of 3d printing with concrete is also being pioneered by an engineer at USC.

    1. Joris


      I haven’t got my hands on the stuff yet so I can not verify nor have I tested it. But, it is what Mr. Dini told me. I’ll see if I can get samples and test them. The trick would seem to be in the binding material.

      “as easily pulverized as being sneezed upon” does depend on the material. There are several relatively weak materials out there but materials such as White, Strong & Flexible(SLS PA2200) are quite strong http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IEUlmsLe12Y

      Several materials we use have Shore values of C & D which is quite hard for a thermoplastic.

      The metal 3D prints we have are very strong http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3_twsI4VG0

      Depending on the process I’ve seen Rockwell values HRc 21 and higher.

      I’ve spent quite some time trying to wreck a small titanium ball by jumping on it and have not been successful, to give you an idea.

  6. Brian

    Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis, an engineer and professor at USC has been working for years on his similar-but-different “Contour Crafting” method aiming to print full-scale buildings in concrete. It too is real stuff and there are full-scale samples He’s now partnered with Caterpillar and some other big guys to get it rolling.


  7. Tomi

    Similar research is also happening at the RMRG (Rapid Manufacturing Research Group) at Loughborough University…

    All very Fascinating..!

  8. Leaflet Printing

    Wow, this is great. 3D printing is something i have been following for some time now, truly fascinating. Great work Enrico.

  9. Anonymous

    What is the environmental impact of this “inorganic binding ink”

    1. Rutger

      Interesting question, Doesn’t anyone know the answer to this? I would really like to know what the environmental impact of that material is.

  10. Sten

    Straight vertical walls should require a much smaller unit. I can picture a 1 meter square machine that rides on top of the last layer of the wall it is creating. It would be fed and controlled with an umbilicus from a central location (possibly hung from a crane so as to have easy access to fill media and lessen the need for a long and complex umbilicus).

    I wonder if a unit like this could incorporate metal reinforcing and attachment parts and make internal piping and/or conduits out of the same material.

  11. John Beattie

    Has any research been carried out to determine the U-Value produced by this form of construction?

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